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Correctness - Part 1

 

 

‘Correctness’ & modern instruments
Correctness

Johan van Veen
wrote (April 21, 2004):
<<< There is an idea floating around that Bach can only 'correctly' be performed on period instruments; eg, I heard a radio announcer make this very suggestion a year or so ago. >>>
<< There is no possible way for music to be performed 'correctly.' It is only possible to perform music well. >
Dan wrote: < I agree completely. To simply rule out playing Bach on more modern
instruments is silly. There are plenty of organists in the world, so why shouldn't each be able to play it the way he/she wants to? There are bad period organs too, as well as bad modern ones. No organ builder builds an organ without Bach in mind. >
1) If one uses the word 'correct' in regard to performances of music, one has to specify it. When a reviewer states that a performance is not 'correct' the reader has to know what exactly his standards are. The addition 'historical' is a good example: it is possible to decide whether a performance is 'historically correct', meaning: avoiding everything we know for sure the composer did not want or could not have wanted.

2) It may be true that no organ builder builds an organ with only Bach in mind. That is also difficult, since the Bach organ does not exist. During his lifetime Bach has played on organs by several builders which differ in character.

But there are certainly organ builders who specifically build organs which are suitable to play the music by Bach and his contemporaries. Some organ builders even copy historical organs. When other historical instruments - like oboes, violins and harpsichords - are copied, why not organs?

3) I don't see why ruling out playing Bach on modern instruments - meaning: instruments which in character are based on 20th century esthetics - is silly. Nobody is forbidding anything. But I don't see why musicians shouldn't have the right to refuse performing early music on any other than period instruments, and why music lovers shouldn't have the right to refuse to listen to recordings on modern instruments.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] The two statements noted by Johan:
"ruling out playing Bach on modern instruments is silly"
and
"performers and listeners should have the right to only perform on and listen to Bach on period instruments"
are, of course, not mutually exclusive.

However, it is important that performers and listeners have the choice. (My own previous 'extreme' stance on this has changed - I suppose extremism never got anyone anywhere).

(Previously, Dan correctly pointed out that I should have used the words "performed well" instead of "correctly").

Speaking of modern instruments, I have listened to Ristenpart's recording of Art of Fugue, in an orchestration by Marcel Bitsch and Claude Pascal.

The final unfinished triple Fugue is a monumental realisation of symphonic proportions (over 9 mins - unfinished!).

The 1st subject (derived from the Art of Fugue's main subject, in long notes) is given to trombones, trumpets and strings, for a grand, liturgical nobility; the 2nd subject (in faster moving notes) is given to string orchestra, and then combined with the 1st subject (trombones) to create a chorale-like effect; then the 3rd subject (based on Bach's name) is introduced by woodwinds, and soon combined with the second subject (strings); and finally the 1st subject (trombones) joins the other two, creating music of unrivalled grandeur, but it's all too brief... the abrupt ending of this amazing
music at this point is eerie, and unsettling. What are the circumstances....?

Robert Sherman wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Of course, anybody can refuse anything. As a trumpeter, I refuse to perform on valveless instruments because I will not be giving my audiences the best music of which I am capable. Others may be of the opposite view.

As a listener, I do keep listening to Hollywood-HIP trumpet recordings in the hope of finding one that is as good as the best modern-instrument recordings and, while some are approaching that standard more closely, I am consistently disappointed.

To each his own.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 21, 2004):
[re Froberger]
<< I sort of like the one where the king dies and rides the rising scale all the way to the top of [some] keyboards. And in the illuminated manuscript of that, there's a nice drawing of clouds and the notes go right into it. >>
< I like it too. In fact, unlike the aforementioned fall down the stairs, I find the rising scale device in this piece quite touching. And I'm always amazed anew that something in c major can work as a lament - it has a sort of gentle, innocent sadness that is really effective. >
For another powerful piece in C major, check out Arvo Part's "Credo" (1968) on Helene Grimaud's newest CD of the same name. The Beethoven Choral Fantasy ends in C major, right before it, and then Part's piece starts as an arrangement of Bach's WTC 1/1 prelude, based directly on its harmonic progressions. Then, a full further adventure comes into that C major.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0000CGV00
Listening to the album straight through, that juxtaposition of Beethoven and Part makes these pieces seem (sort of) like two movements of a meta-piece. And the sung text of the Beethoven piece is about peace and joy, the unity of love and strength; the Part is about breaking the cycle of returning evil in response to evil (from Matthew chapter 5).

Bach Master wrote (April 21, 2004):
I've really come to detest this phrase "the composer's intentions." Who put the composers in charge? I'm a musician and an artist, and composers aren't the boss of me. Unless they're paying me, I'm going to play it any way I darn well please. Isn't this idea of "the composer's intentions" really a modern invention anyway? It's safe to assume that Bach expected others to perform his music but do you really think he expected them to play exactly like him? I would think that even in his day imitating another player and not bringing something of your own to the table would be highly frowned upon.

Historically correct? What am I, a curator? It's not a painting, it's a piece of music that requires human input for expression. Without me it's just a piece of paper with some ink on it. And why should I play it like Bach? I'm not Bach! The fact is that the only person who could ever sound good playing music the way Bach played it is Bach. Everyone else needs to make their own way.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Bach Master] Right on!

Dan wrote (April 21, 2004):
Correct. It is a matter of personal preference, not a moral choice. I just don't think you can rule out Bach on modern instruments for being 'inproper' or thing that the performer is an inferior musician because of it. It is purely a matter of preference or personal beliefs, which are never universal. The best reason for listening to Bach only on period organs is because you "like the sound".

Johan van Veen wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Bach Master] Your suggestion that people who advocate 'following the composer's intentions' expect performers to play Bach's music axactly the way he played it, is complete rubbish. Even the most fundamentalist HIP advocate - I am one of them - would never do that, because it is impossiblem, but also because the composers of the baroque never expected the performers to play like them. They left them a considerable freedom. Using that freedom is exactly 'following the composer's intentions'.

But in my view 'following the composer's intentions' means that this freedom is limited by what we know for sure the composer didn't want performers to do or what he never could expect performers to do. The composers did expect performers to add ornaments, but they couldn't expect them to play their music on instruments they didn't know.

The fact that I believe the performer is indeed the composer's most humble servant doesn't mean he isn't allowed to put his personal stamp on his perf.
Performing other people's music is all the matter of good taste - the taste of the composer and his time, that is.

If their wouldn't be any difference between good and bad taste, then why was the term 'le bon goût' such a buzz word in the 18th century?

Robert Sherman wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I feel a bit silly re-engaging in this endless debate, but I'm intrigued by Johan's statement that "we know for sure the composer didn't want performers to do or what he never could expect performers to do." How do we know that? If Maurice Andre or Wynton Marsalis were to acquire a time machine and walk into a Bach performance, do we know for sure that Bach would say "Don't play that way?" How do we know that?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 21, 2004):
Bach Master wrote: < I'm a musician and an artist, and composers aren't the boss of me. Unless they're paying me, I'm going to play it any way I darn well please. >
While I sympathise with the general thrust of what you're saying here. to claim that "Unless they're paying me, I'm going to play it any way I darn well please" is a bit excessive. Presumably someone is paying you to play what's written, even if it's not the composer? If you really want to play what you "damn well please" do just that, and say so. But don't claim what you're playing is by Bach, or whoever.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Dan] It is a matter of personal preference, but for someone who holds one view or the other it can be more than that.

In my case, my choice for HIP is not just a matter of esthetics or personal taste - that is part of it -, but also a moral issue. I hold the view that the composer is the boss, and that in the end he decides what his music means and how it should be performed. In holding that view I am not saying that other views are immoral, or that those who hold other views are immoral. It is like in social matters: the fact that one has certain principles on moral issues doesn't necessarily mean other views are immoral.

When I say that a performance is improper that's because it doesn't match with my principles regarding the performance of music by a composer. That is not a fact, but a personal judgment, based on my own set of standards. If someone writes on a list or if someone is writing reviews in a magazine it is hardly necessary to explicit those standards every time. That is going to be rather boring. But it means that readers have to assess those messages or reviews within the context of what they know about someone's principles in regard to performance practice.

Therefore if a member of this list says a performance is improper, then that judgment has to be read in the context of what he has written before.

But whatever someone's assessment of a specific performance, there is no reason to conclude from a negative assessment that the interpreter is a bad musician.

You won't be surprised that I strongly disagree with your last sentence. For me the use of historical organs from the 'Bach circle' is essential to bring out what Bach's music contains. He wrote his music within his own historical and cultural context. Trying to stay as close as possible to that context in the interpretation of his music makes it more likely that we understand what he intended to say.


Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 21, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < Your suggestion that people who advocate 'following the composer's intentions' expect performers to play Bach's music axactly the way he played it, is complete rubbish. Even the most fundamentalist HIP advocate - I am one of them - would never do that, because it is impossiblem, but also because the composers of the baroque never expected the performers to play like them. They left them a considerable freedom. Using that freedom is exactly 'following the composer's intentions'. >
Absolutely! The acronym HIP stands for Historically Informed Performance. It doesn't stand for Playing Bach Exactly As He Played It! I wonder why that is so hard for some people to understand.....

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 21, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote: < If Maurice Andre or Wynton Marsalis were to acquire a time machine and walk into a Bach performance, do we know for sure that Bach would say “Don’t play that way?” How do we know that? >
He might not say "don't play that way" but that is not the same as saying he expected players to play that way.

If you like the playing of Wynton Marsalis or Maurice Andre (or whoever) in Bach, why does it matter whether Bach would have liked it or not?

Robert Sherman wrote (April 21, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < If Maurice Andre or Wynton Marsalis were to acquire a time machine and walk into a Bach performance, do we know for sure that Bach would say "Don't play that way?" How do we know that? >
He might not say "don't play that way" but that is not the same as saying he expected players to play that way.

< If you like the playing of Wynton Marsalis or Maurice Andre (or whoever) in Bach, why does it matter whether Bach would have liked it or not? >
To me, it doesn't. I was just curious about how Johan could "know for sure the composer didn't want performers to do or what he never could expect performers to do."

Johan van Veen wrote (April 21, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] We don't know everything but we should respect what we know.

We know for sure Bach didn't expect the keyboard part of his sonatas for keyboard and violin to be played on the fortepiano. They date from the 1720's, and at that time there was no fortepiano in sight. Therefore I take the freedom to call a performance of those sonatas with a fortepiano 'historically incorrect'.

One could perhaps argue in favour of using a fortepiano in compositions from the 1740's, like the Musicalisches Opfer. In a recording of Bach's complete flute sonatas by Musica Alta Ripa (MDG) the sonata BWV 1035 is played on the fortepiano, on the basis of the assumption that this work has been written around the same time as the Musicalisches Opfer, and in Potsdam. Although I am still not convinced that this is reason enough for this sonata to be played with a fortepiano, I am willing to give that performance the benefit of the doubt, but the use of a fortepiano which is copied after Anton Walter, is simply 'historically incorrect'.

(No date of the original instrument is given, but as far as I know the earliest instruments by this builder date from the 1780's. The obvious choice would be a (copy of) a Silbermann fortepiano. Anyone who has heard a Silbermann and a Walter will immediately note the huge difference in character).

And we know for sure Bach didn't intend his sacred cantatas written in Leipzig to be performed by a choir of 40 singers or a full chamber orchestra.

And we know for sure that Bach didn't intend his organ works to be played on a French symphonic organ, because he didn't know such an instrument.

Arguments like "what if" are not valuable. I don't see the point of 'historical possibilism'.

Dan Long wrote (April 22, 2004):
< And we know for sure that Bach didn't intend his organ works to be played on a French symphonic organ, because he didn't know such an instrument. >
So if all we have available is a French symphonic organ we should omit Bach from the recital?

We know for sure Bach didn't expect the keyboard part of his sonatas for keyboard and violin to be played on the fortepiano. They date from the 1720's, and at that time there was no fortepiano in sight. Therefore I take the freedom to call a performance of those sonatas with a fortepiano 'historically incorrect'.

Are you seriously suggesting that beautiful music can't be made out of Bach's Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin using a fortepiano? And if you're not, what are you suggesting? What is the ultimate purpose of this labeling? Is it something like the USDA? Will it make us sick if we listen to it?

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Dan Long] I don't know what all the fuss is about. I had written that we shouldn't something we know for sure the composer didn't expect the performer to do or couldn't expect him to do. Bob Sherman then asked if there is anything we know for sure didn't expect. And that is what I tried to explain.

I never talked about not playing Bach on a symphonic organ, only that Bach could not expect performers of his music to do that. For me that means performers shouldn't do it. But everyone has the right to do what he likes, just like I have the right to disapprove of it.

And I am not saying that you can't make 'beautiful music' if you use instruments the composer didn't ask for or even didn't know. But that is not what I am looking for. I want to know what - for instance - Bach has to say in his music. And I strongly believe that the more you oblige to the intentions of the composer and the context in which he wrote his music the more clearly the character of his music is revealed.

I don't want 'beautiful music', I want Bach;)

Charles Francis wrote (April 22, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < It is a matter of personal preference, but for someone who holds one view or the other it can be more than that. In my case, my choice for HIP is not just a matter of esthetics or personal taste - that is part of it -, but also a moral issue. I hold the view that the composer is the boss, and that in the end he decides what his music means and how it should be performed. In holding that view I am not saying that other views are immoral, or that those who hold other views are immoral. It is like in social matters: the fact that one has certain principles on moral issues doesn't necessarily mean other views are immoral. >
Does your moral stand also apply to Vivaldi? Surely, he can't have expected someone to arrange his concertos for solo organ? Are you uncomfortable with Bach's arrangement, therefore? If not, what is the problem with transcriptions of Bach's works for modern instruments?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] Either you don't understand what Johan is saying, or you are being deliberately silly (again). For a start, Vivaldi would be unlikely to be surprised about Bach's arangements, since this was common and quite normal practice. And a Bach transcription of a Vivaldi concerto is a quite different thing (in every parameter) from a performance of Bach on modern instruments. Do you really not understand that?

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] This is one of the reasons I can't take "Charles" seriously. I don't think he is stupid, so messages like this one are deliberate provocations.

I can use my time better than trying to answer questions of someone who isn't really interested in answers.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] There may have been a semantic misunderstanding due to Johan's not being a native English speaker. He originally said we know for sure Bach didn't "want" any sound he hadn't heard, and later changed this to Bach didn't "intend" it. The two terms are not interchangeable. My disagreement is with the first formulation, not the second.

To say Bach didn't "intend" is of course true since he couldn't have intended what he didn't know.

To say Bach didn't "want" goes farther, saying that if he heard Andre or whomever he would react with "Get out, I don't want what you do." And of course we can only conjecture about whether that is true or not.

In any case, for my part I want beautiful music. I couldn't care less about its authenticity. My dislike for the Beecham Messiah is based not on its departure from the original, but on its just not being done very well.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] Not 'wanting' and not 'intending' are indeed two different things. I realise that I have given examples of what Bach did not intend, and did not give examples of what I am sure Bach did not want. No confusion here, just an omission.

I am sure - simply on the basis of what we know about Bach's cultural context - that he did not want interpretations which are middle-of-the-road, with minimal contrasts. And I am also sure that he did not want singers to sing recitatives exactly as notated in the score, but wanted them to take the necessary rhythmic freedom on the basis of the text rather than the music. And I am sure he wanted singers and players to differentiate in the way notes are played.

We can make things even more complicated by making a difference between what Bach intended and what he was able or allowed to do. But then we enter the realm of speculation, which I don't think will bring us any further.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote: < There may have been a semantic misunderstanding due to Johan's not being a native English speaker. He originally said we know for sure Bach didn't "want" any sound he hadn't heard, and later changed this to Bach didn't "intend" it. The two terms are not interchangeable. My disagreement is with the first formulation, not the second. >
The two terms are indeed not interchangeable. But Bach cannot have 'wanted' a sound he'd never heard either. You can't want something you don't know exists.

Fumitaka Sato wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] This is an analogy to the contrary: Even though one cannot see a perfect triangle, one could want the perfect figure if possible. Actual experience of listening may not be a criterion for desired sound.

BTW, I prefer sounds of period instruments.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] Reflecting on what Bob writes I think the underlying question is: how would Bach want his music to be performed in our time?

That is a question I am not interested in. It can't be answered: only Bach could tell, and we can't ask him.

I don't see the point of asking unanswerable questions.

The passage in this message regarding Bach's (un)likely reaction to Maurice André playing his music is therefore irrelevant. I am pretty sure, though, that Bach would have written different music if he had known the modern instruments, for the simple reason that there has always been a very close connection between the way music was composed and the voices and instruments available to the composer.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
Fumitaka Sato wrote: < Actual experience of listening may not be a criterion for desired sound. >
Theoretically perhaps, but not in reality.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] You too easily assume that brass instruments in Bach's time could not play in tune. Isn't that based on today's experiences? Could it be that today's players haven't been able to discover ways of playing that kind of instruments in tune?

Robert Sherman wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Fumitaka Sato] Right. Bach could have wanted brasses that played perfectly in tune without splatty attacks and could do chromatic scales throughout the full range, even though he never heard them. I'd think he must have dreamed of this capability, but of course that's speculation.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < You too easily assume that brass instruments in Bach's time could not play in tune. Isn't that based on today's experiences? Could it be that today's players haven't been able to discover ways of playing that kind of instruments in tune? >
And, "in tune" according to what? Equal temperament? Just intonation? Pythagorean? A Silbermann organ tuned in 1/6 comma meantone? A brand-new German flute of the 1720s?

Robert Sherman wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Sure, anything's possible. On this, I'll believe it when I hear it, and so far I haven't.

It's also possible that Bach's trumpeters did not play in tune. Everything I've heard (music, not words) is consistent with that hypothesis.

Charles Francis wrote (April 22, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < You too easily assume that brass instruments in Bach's time could not play in tune. Isn't that based on today's experiences? Could it be that today's players haven't been able to discover ways of playing that kind of instruments in tune? >
In such a case, today's brass instruments would better capture Bach's sound world with regard to expected intonation than historical reconstructions because of current performance limitations. Your moral imperative to respect the composers inten, would then argue for the use of modern instruments.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Robert Sherman] This means that you have no evidence - from sources of the 17th or 18th century - where knowledgeable people complained the trumpeters couldn't play in tune.

I am very skeptical in regard to the view that in the 17th century some instruments could not be played in tune. Do we really have to believe composers continued to compose music for instruments which couldn't be played properly. Wouldn't that make them composing for other instruments instead?

We have heard time and again that Bach's singers were no good. Do we really have to believe then that Bach was so stubborn that he continued to compose music for singers who were not able to handle his music?

I simply don't buy it. I a sure composers and audiences were just as critical and demanding as their present-day counterparts. And I don't believe for one minute that they would accept hearing instruments constantly playing out of tune.

It is quite possible, of course, that when present-day performers would be able to play the instruments as well as I believe their 17th and 18th century predecessors could, modern audiences would still experience their playing as 'out of tune'. But in that case we should really try to listen like audiences of the 17th and 18th centuries instead of dismissing the results as 'wrong'.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 22, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] On trumpets, with or without valves, "in tune" consists of a true, non-tempered scale defined by two triads up and one down from the tonic. In baroque parts, which don't go more than one sharp or one flat away from the section's major key (usually D), this is possible if the instrument-player combination is good enough. The two added notes are defined by going one additional triad in each direction. Baroque trumpeters don't need to mess with that temperament stuff.

It's true that the system I've just described will produce two different pitches each for the second and sixth degrees of the scale. But the differences are small, and in practice the players instinctively tune to whatever eliminates the heterodynes.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote: < It's also possible that Bach's trumpeters did not play in tune. Everything I've heard (music, not words) is consistent with that hypothesis. >
You've heard Bach's trumpeters then?!!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 22, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: < In such a case, today's brass instruments would better capture Bach's sound world with regard to expected intonation than historical reconstructions because of current performance limitations. >
Nonsense. Pure nonsense.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 22, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote: < On trumpets, with or without valves, "in tune" consists of a true, non-tempered scale defined by two triads up and one down from the tonic. In baroque parts, which don't go more than one sharp or one flat away from the section's major key (usually D), this is possible if the instrument-player combination is good enough. The two added notes are defined by going one additional triad in each direction. Baroque trumpeters don't need to mess with that temperament stuff.

Fair enough, in this explanation you've answered my question: "just intonation". That makes the following intervals against the tonic:

D = 1:1
E = 9:8 (or 10:9)
F# = 5:4
G = 4:3
A = 3:2
B = 5:3 (or 27:16)
C# = 15:8
D = 2:1

< It's true that the system I've just described will produce two different pitches each for the second and sixth degrees of the scale. But the differences are small, and in practice the players instinctively tune to whatever eliminates the heterodynes. >
True. But I believe your assertion still needs to be demonstrated: that modern players of old trumpets cannot play those notes as described above.

And incidentally, that conflict between the two versions of the second note (9:8 vs 10:9) is one of the fundamentals of keyboard temperament issues. In 1/4 comma meantone temperament we put that note at sqrt(5):2, i.e. the geometric mean between 1 and 5:4. In other regular meantone layouts we put it (similarly) at the square root of whatever the third note's ratio is. In other keyboard temperaments it's more complex than that.

I believe that's also true of early 18th century woodwind instruments, with that meantone principle: wherever they've put the major third, the major second is placed exactly between them. That makes the note better usable in more keys than one. If we're still talking about D-E-F#, that means the D-E interval is exactly the same size (geometrically) as E-F#. That wouldn't be so, without the tempering of that E.

Hence my question earlier about the trumpet being in tune with a 1720s German flute, and/or with one of Silbermann's organs.... :) If Baroque trumpeters are playing in ensemble with period woodwinds, or with keyboards, they do need to mess with that temperament stuff. Does "in tune" mean matching the rest of the ensemble adequately, or matching an oscilloscope?

Stephen Benson wrote (April 23, 2004):
Robert Sherman wrote: < It's also possible that Bach's trumpeters did not play in tune. Everything I've heard (music, not words) is consistent with that hypothesis. >
Eric Chafe (Analyzing Bach Cantatas, Oxford University Press, 2000) would argue that, in specific cases, Bach actually turned limitations of natural trumpet tuning to his own advantage to emphasize a point. In his discussion of Cantata 77 he suggests that Bach's instructions for the trumpet "to play an array of pitches that are either not available or out of tune on the natural trumpet" (p. 212) is a compositional device used to represent musically man's imperfection.

If he is correct, what the modern valve trumpet gains in brilliance, responsiveness, clarity, and relative intonation thus comes at a price (a price, by the way, that I, personally, am more than willing to pay).Steve Benson

Steven Guy wrote (April 23, 2004):
I am one who chooses to buy recordings featuring the HIP/period instrument approach in general. I feel that the use of period instruments and techniques and the kinds of forces available to the composers of the past of gives us the best method of interpretation of early music. What is more, I like to get a feel for music on its own terms. It seems strange to me to suggest that a modern orchestra can and should play all the music from Monteverdi to Biber to Bach to Haydn to Mozart to Beethoven to Berlioz to Brahms, and so on. Instruments have changed over time and so has the music. The kind of instrumental ensemble Monteverdi wanted to perform his opera L'Orfeo is a very different animal from the orchestra used by Arcangelo Corelli later in the 17th century. Corelli's orchestra consisted of strings (from the violin family) and a basso continuo section which may have included lutes, archlutes, harpsichords and organs (as well as bass string instruments). Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, a close contemporary of Corelli and Marc-Antoine Charpentier, wrote for an ensemble (in his sacred music) consisting of strings (including gambas), trumpets, trombones, cornetts and dulcians. Charpentier was already using the newly invented oboes and bassoons, as well as the choke-bore models of recorders and flutes. So there are geographical as well as chronological considerations when we are considering which instruments to use in Baroque music.

In some respects, Bach's music was rather old fashioned (and I mean that in the nicest possible way! ;-)). He used cornetts and sackbuts (trombones) to play colla parte with the vocal ensemble in much the same way composers had since the time of Palestrina and Lassus. Recorders, lutes and viols continued to feature in Bach's music, even though these instruments were becoming rather old fashioned in Bach's time. However, Bach readily used new instruments like the oboe family (the 'taille', 'da caccia' and 'd'amore' variants were often scored into sacred works by Bach) and unusual instruments like the slide trumpet, cornettino and violino piccolo. Bach never used the chalumeau or newly invented in any of his surviving works. Maybe he didn't like the sound of this instrument or there weren't any players and/or instruments around?

Telemann, Fux (a composer much older than Bach), Rameau, Handel and Gluck all used chalumeaux or clarinets in their works.

So should we use clarinets in performances of Bach? I would say - not in authoritative recordings.

There is nothing stopping any modern musician from using any instrument at their disposal in a performance of Bach's music. To some extent, there was an 'any goes' approach to music of the past in the 20th century and I am hoping that this idea is starting to fade a little. Respect for the freedoms and limitations of the music, technology, culture and beliefsof the past is noble thing, IMHO. I would hope that if pianists play Bach's music, for instance, they at least inform their audience that this instrument wasn't known to Bach (in its modern form) and Bach's keyboard music was primarily intended to be played on the organ, clavichord and harpsichord. There are always a few people new to this music and I think that they deserve to be given some sort of explanation of the methods and instruments used in a performance. Obviously, when we are dealing with contemporary music the instruments being used are probably exactly the same as those specified by the composer, so this sort of explanation isn't really important.

Bach is a composer who has been known to musicians and audiences since the 19th century - we all know this. His music has been interpreted by generations of performers and traditions have developed. This isn't the case with the music of many other Baroque and Renaissance composers - Rameau, Telemann, Couperin, Charpentier, Schmelzer, Rosenmüller, Biber, Muffat and Bertali, for instance, haven't had much of their music performed until recently. We might discuss the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, for instance, and it would become very clear very quickly that modern performers using modern instruments have largely ignored his music. The performance of this music on modern instruments isn't 'out of bounds', however, modern orchestras exhibit little inclination to perform this music. We have brilliant and profoundly satisfying recordings and performances of Rameau's music by groups like Les Arts Florissants, Les Musiciens du Louvre and Les Talens Lyriques. Jean-Baptiste Lully is another composer beloved of these kinds of groups and ignored by modern orchestras. Please don't suggest that modern orchestras won't touch this music for fear of some sort of 'backlash' by fans of HIP - pianists and modern orchestras still play Bach, Vivaldi and Handel don't they? Modern pianists aren't clamouring to play the music of Froberger or Frescobaldi, are they? I have a friend who is a pianist and he would much rather get stuck into the neglected 20th century repertoire for the piano than mess around in the 17th century!

If Johann Sebastian Bach's music had been unearthed only fifteen years ago, I would be willing to bet that there wouldn't be much energy in the 'HIP versus Modern Instruments' debate.

Donald Satz wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I fully agree with Johan concerning the use of historical organs for Bach's organ works, and it's more than just a matter of personal preference. I have no doubt that if Bach had the modern organ at his disposal, he wouldn't have written the same music.

Having said the above, I own a host of Bach organ discs on modern organs that I love dearly. That's because of the artistry of the organist who can overcome the disadvantage of the instrument.

Speaking of artists overcoming their instruments, that's exactly what Hans Helmut Tillmanns is unable to do in his bevy of Bach/Baroque organ recordings for Danacord. He does use an historical organ for one Buxtehude piece, and the music suddenly becomes a live organism instead of the dead fish he throws our way most of the time.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Right, we agree.

On the matter of major seconds, the interval from the tonic to the second is 8:9, and from the second to the third it's 9:10. This is the true harmonic series. And also it's the only way you get a pure major third of 4:5. All these principles apply of course to singers as well as brass players. Use of the true scale is how groups such as the King's Singers are able to do early music with such superhumanly pure chords.

What needs to be demonstrated is not that modern players of old (true-HIP) trumpets cannot play the true scale. That's easy. I can demonstrate that to you quite easily myself if you hand me an original horn. I can't play it in tune. What needs to be demonstrated is that there are some who CAN play in tune without finger-holes or any of that other newfangled jimcrackery. I haven't heard it done yet.

I was afraid you were going to ask what we pure-interval guys do when we have to play with tempered instruments. With woodwinds, the answer is that we try to tune with each other. Everything goes to pot and we follow no system you can put a name to. We just try to make the intervals sound as pure as possible. Woodwinds, especially double-reeds, can bend the pitch considerably and can meet us more than halfway.

Keyboard instruments, of course, can't bend the notes at all. When I'm playing with an organ, I try to keep the organ in the lower octaves so the differences in tuning aren't so noticeable. But if we're in the same octave, the organ is loud, and we're in unison, I will just match whatever tuning the organ uses. I have no choice.

Dan Long wrote (April 23, 2004):
What about transcriptions? Bach transcribed Vivaldi concerti for organ, which isn't anything like what Vivaldi had in mind. I don't agree that it needs to be played according to rules-why shouldn't an organ fugue be transcribed for an orchestra? I think he would like that.

Dan Long wrote (April 23, 2004):
< Either you don't understand what Johan is saying, or you are being deliberately silly (again). For a start, Vivaldi would be unlikely to be surprised about Bach's arangements, since this was common and quite normal practice. And a Bach transcription of a Vivaldi concerto is a quite different thing (in every parameter) from a performance of Bach on modern instruments. Do you really not understand that? >
In this case morality is the same as personal preference. If it weren't every one would agree with you.

Dan Long wrote (April 23, 2004):
< Not 'wanting' and not 'intending' are indeed two different things. I realise that I have given examples of what Bach did not intend, and did not give examples of what I am sure Bach did not want. No confusion here, just an omission.
I am sure - simply on the basis of what we know about Bach's cultural context - that he did not want interpretations which are middle-of-the-road, with minimal contrasts. And I am also sure that he did not want singers to sing recitatives exactly as notated in the score, but wanted them to take the necessary rhythmic freedom on the basis of the text rather than the music. And I am sure he wanted singers and players to differentiate in the way notes are played.
We can make things even more complicated by making a difference between what Bach intended and what he was able or allowed to do. But then we enter the realm of speculation, which I don't think will bring us any further. >
How are you sure? No composer simply writes music and intends it to played a certain way expecting that a strong musical personality won't interpret in an unexpected way. Isn't that why they call it an interpretation? Besides, its much easier to play according to the rules.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 23, 2004):
[To Stephen Benson] Steve, no need to worry about that. A modern trumpet can easily play out of tune by using the seventh harmonic, awkward fingerings, too much or too little extension of the first or third slide, by depressing the valves part way, or by simply lipping the note above or below its center. Jazz trumpeters frequently play quarter-tones using these or other techniques. Playing out of tune is easy. It's getting it in tune, even on a modern trumpet, that separates the men and women from the boys and girls.



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Last update: ýApril 25, 2004 ý23:27:29