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Early Bach Cantatas

Part 1

 

 

Young Bach's cantatas

Bradley Lehman
wrote (January 28, 2005):
The ongoing discussion here over several months has been helpful, listening and playing through Bach's music in compositional sequence.

Some impressions of mine so far, from this exercise:

- It sounds pretty much like 17th century music, in typical Germanic styles but with strong contemporary French influence. (Sort of like Georg Bohm....) Why? Because that's what young Bach in his early 20s knew about, so far, in forging his own musical style.

- I especially notice that much of this early music is a bunch of contrasting sections strung together with only minimal transitions. Not major movement breaks, so much, but an improvisatory organization of stacking a bunch of ideas next to each other, whenever the previous idea has run its course. Again this is a 17th century thing to do....chez Buxtehude, especially. Form is an organically-developing thing.

- In BWV 131 Bach still used 17th century norms of notation, as to Dorian key signatures instead of modern minor, and flats (instead of natural signs) to cancel sharps.

- I don't hear any "deliberate" archaism here in any of these early cantatas, let alone anything pedantic by Bach to suggest archaism to a congregation. It's just a young composer writing music that sounds good for the performance resources available to him, and undergoing natural development as a creative person. (Perhaps it's necessary to have been a composer in one's early 20s to understand such development personally? This all seems completely normal to me. It's corroborated by playing through all Bach's early keyboard music, too, including the Neumeister chorale preludes; and the contemporary books of Fischer's keyboard music that Bach knew.)

- When Bach recycled some of these early vocal pieces in his first years at Leipzig, he simply reworked them in practical ways for the different performance resources available to him. Again, this is simply to sound good and to make a good impression in his new job, that he could produce beautiful and moving music and handle the musicians under his charge. Different instrumentalists available, different organ-transposing situation, different singers. Some of his older music worked pretty much in reruns without substantial change, while other of it needed more rework. So what? This is only bringing up-to-date whatever needed to be, for practical purposes; again I'm not convinced there is any deliberate archaism.

- As we'll see later in the Entwurff, Bach was concerned with producing up-to-date and modern music as his general task. He blended all the influences of form and content, and set out a critical stance of his own, never satisfied merely to imitate. (And Laurence Dreyfus has shown this especially well in his book Bach and the Patterns of Invention.) Bach's development as a composer shows him ever questing for the new, and for ways to refine whatever came his way (whether it was fundamentally new or old), making it more intense and meaningful.

- This is all fundamentally practical musicianship--delivering music that serves the designed purpose for it--and refinement as Bach continued to learn his art. I don't see Bach at under age 25 as being pedantic about anything. He was a hotshot learning his way quickly, and experimenting with new ideas, and writing wild instrumental stuff to try out what he could get away with. This was a Bach who blew off his job for a couple of months without permission and got himself tossed into jail. He got secondhand Pachelbel instruction through his brother, and he was getting his eager hands on any and all music that could teach him something, and then trying out his own way. Likewise he learned how vocal music works by doing it, on the job, having fresh ideas that his experience to date allowed him to have. Craftsmanship is something to work out, in practice.

- I haven't seen compelling evidence that any of this is dependent on doing only (or even "mainly") last-minute work. Whether it's the vocal music of these early years, or much later in more stressful conditions at Leipzig, Bach was a careful worker where his art was concerned. The compositions are refined in quality, even these early ones. They're tricky to sing and play, taking plenty of rehearsal time, working out the details and balances.

- Young people still learning their craft tend to produce conservative or derivative-sounding results, simply because they are still learning the basic operations and rules of the material. They learn by grappling with the music around them that has gone before, figuring out how it works. All these examples by young Bach corroborate that point. The resemblance to role models is still apparent. And it doesn't make much sense to read 19th century romantic notions of fully-formed genius back into this, dismissing the early music because of those resemblances. Better to let young Bach learn his craft moving forward as any sufficiently industrious and careful creative spirit would do, with a rapid but normal progression of improvement, than to punish him somehow for being less than his later self would become.

- Nobody knows how many lost or destroyed early works there may have been, around these that survive. Maybe none, maybe a lot. Maybe many drafts of these, or maybe only a few drafts. These pieces that do survive already show a lot of promise for the music that came later. Good warm-up creativity!

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 28, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>It [early Bach cantatas] sounds pretty much like 17th century music, in typical Germanic styles but with strong contemporary French influence.<<
For any sort of credibility regarding the 'strong contemporary French influence,' some concrete evidence is needed to show how certain sacred vocal compositions by French composers written c. 1700 influenced Bach's early style of composing cantatas. If Böhm and Buxtehude are considered strongly influenced by French sacred music of their time, I would like to know more about this specifically as well.

BL: >>Form is an organically-developing thing.<<
Illustrate this with examples from the early Bach cantatas. How did the separate arias and recitatives grow as an organically-developing thing from such cantatas as BWV 106?

BL: >>I don't hear any "deliberate" archaism here in any of these early cantatas, let alone anything pedantic by Bach to suggest archaism to a congregation.<<
Is arranging a composition by Palestrina or composing something based upon it "deliberate" archaism when Palestrina lived from 1514/1525/1528-29 to 1594, a century or two before Bach? Were congregations in the first half of the 18th century hearing such works regularly performed blissfully unaware of the strong historical connotations long-standing tradition of such a motet style? Whoever brought up the word 'pedantic' in this context? A composition can have a wonderfully old sound to it and not necessarily sound or be pedantic. That depends entirely upon the composer, of which type Bach was not. His genius did not allow him to slavishly imitate and 'grind out' compositions that would sound 'old-fashioned.' Only for the arrogant galant-style composers and theoreticians were Bach's works in the 'stile antico' contrived, pedantic and deliberately archaic.

BL: >>Perhaps it's necessary to have been a composer in one's early 20s to understand such development personally? This all seems completely normal to me.<<
What may seem completely normal to you, may not be completely normal for others. It is just as possible that your personal experience in composing may have created a special 20th-century bias that can not be easily laid aside, thus preventing a more objective view of Bach's early development that may be gained by someone who has studied the historical record more carefully.

BL: >>Some of his older music worked pretty much in reruns without substantial change, while other of it needed more rework. So what?<<
List all the cantatas that were repeated 'pretty mucin reruns without substantial changes.'

BL: >>Bach's development as a composer shows him ever questing for the new, and for ways to refine whatever came his way (whether it was fundamentally new or old), making it more intense and meaningful.<<
This should be self-evident to anyone who has examined Bach's works more closely.

BL: >>And it doesn't make much sense to read 19th century romantic notions of fully-formed genius back into this, dismissing the early music because of those resemblances.<<
Who has been doing this? Name some serious Bach scholars who have proposed dismissing Bach's early music.

BL: >>Better to let young Bach learn his craft...with a rapid but normal progression of improvement, than to punish him somehow for being less than his later self would become.<<
Who is punishing the young Bach? Name the individuals.

BL: >>These pieces that do survive already show a lot of promise for the music that came later. Good warm-up creativity!<<
Too bad that these words of encouragement could not have been conveyed to Bach while he was still not yet a genius!

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 28, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>I don't hear any "deliberate" archaism here in any of these early cantatas, let alone anything pedantic by Bach to suggest archaism to a congregation.... I'm not convinced there is any deliberate archaism.<<
Perhaps you have not noticed this in BWV 71/3 (1708); BWV 4/5 (c. 1709); BWV 21/9 (1714) and BWV 182/7 (1714). All of these are examples of 'stile antico.' Since many of Bach's early works are lost, there is no easy way to estimate how much more he may have really used the 'stile antico' (or 'antico' motet style.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 29, 2005):
>>It [early Bach cantatas] sounds pretty much like 17th century music, in typical Germanic styles but with strong contemporary French influence.<<
< For any sort of credibility regarding the 'strong contemporary French influence,' some concrete evidence is needed to show how certain sacred vocal compositions by French composers written c. 1700 influenced Bach's early style of composing cantatas. If Böhm and Buxtehude are considered strongly influenced by French sacred music of their time, I would like to know more about this specifically as well. >
I would think this is self-evident from listening to the vocal music (sacred motets, and/or operas) of Lully, Charpentier, Delalande, Gilles, Couperin, and/or Dumont. The phrase structure, the way dissonances and suspensions are employed, the frequent cadencing, the typically five-part textures, the treatment of small notes as decorative. For example, the thing that was discussed here earlier about the word "Tiefen" (of BWV 131) where the "-fen" comes in between/ahead of the beats, the same way a tierce de coulee is done in French music. Or the gigue-like movement near the end of BWV 4. Or the sommeil-like recorders in unison that I mentioned earlier, in BWV 106. Or the way BWV 106 has little ariosos in it, sort of like the way French music does measured recitative.

For history including discussion of French sacred music and opera, in context and in the way Germany fits into this, I recommend Bianconi's book Music in the Seventeenth Century....and of course enrolling in university courses in music history......

BL: >>Form is an organically-developing thing.<<
Illustrate this with examples from the early Bach cantatas. How did the separate arias and recitatives grow as an organically-developing thing from such cantatas as
BWV 106? >
See above.

< Only for the arrogant galant-style composers and theoreticians were Bach's works in the 'stile antico' contrived, pedantic and deliberately archaic. >
Whatever.

BL: >>Perhaps it's necessary to have been a composer in one's early 20s to understand such development personally? This all seems completely normal to me.<<
< What may seem completely normal to you, may not be completely normal for others. It is just as possible that your personal experience in composing may have created a special 20th-century bias that can not be easily laid aside, thus preventing a more objective view of Bach's early development that may be gained by someone who has studied the historical record more carefully. >
So, the claim is that people who compose and who have university degrees in music are not objective, but an alleged "someone who has studied the historical record more carefully" is more properly objective? Let's not go there.

BL: >>Some of his older music worked pretty much in reruns without substantial change, while other of it needed more rework. So what?<<
< List all the cantatas that were repeated 'pretty much in reruns without substantial changes.' >
There's exactly that list in Wolff's book. It need not be repeated here.

BL: >>Bach's development as a composer shows him ever questing for the new, and for ways to refine whatever came his way (whether it was fundamentally new or old), making it more intense and meaningful.<<
< This should be self-evident to anyone who has examined Bach's works more closely. >
I wasn't saying it was any new idea here! I was simply summing up my reactions so far to the first handful of Bach's vocal works in chronological sequence, and giving a couple of sentences precis of Laurence Dreyfus's fine book Patterns of Invention.

BL: >>And it doesn't make much sense to read 19th century romantic notions of fully-formed genius back into this, dismissing the early music because of those resemblances.<<
< Who has been doing this? Name some serious Bach scholars who have proposed dismissing Bach's early music. >
Writers about the keyboard toccatas, and early chorale preludes, and other early keyboard music of his..... It's pretty standard in the literature to look askance at those pieces as somehow too derivative from Buxtehude, too repetitious or square in the fugal bits, etc etc etc. What books present a really enthusiastic assessment of the chorale partitas for organ, as compared with the later sets of chorales? Have you ever played the D minor toccata 913? It really is too firmly stuck in tonic and dominant! Ever played through the scraps of keyboard compositions that Dover has reprinted from the BGA into a miscellany volume? Some of those pieces really are rather thin on ideas, and therefore those pieces don't get played very often.

BL: >>Better to let young Bach learn his craft...with a rapid but normal progression of improvement, than to punish him somehow for being less than his later self would become.<<
< Who is punishing the young Bach? Name the individuals. >
See above.

BL: >>These pieces that do survive already show a lot of promise for the music that came later. Good warm-up creativity!<<
< Too bad that these words of encouragement could not have been conveyed to Bach while he was still not yet a genius! >
What does that mean? Genius is the willingness and ability to study and to do hard work, to get better. It's doesn't have to be some hyper-romantic ability to crank out fully formed pieces at age 8 or something. (That is, Bach's failure to produce much surviving music of any special quality, before age 20 or so, doesn't mean he wasn't a genius!)

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 29, 2005):
Brad Lehman wrote: >>I would think this is self-evident from listening to the vocal music (sacred motets, and/or operas) of Lully, Charpentier, Delalande, Gilles, Couperin,and/or Dumont.<<
Nothing is self-evident if even German Bach scholars have not noted these strong French influences on Bach's sacred music.

>>the typically five-part textures<<
You may have missed my observation on this point on how strong the German tradition was in this regard.

>>Or the gigue-like movement near the end of BWV 4<<
Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne ["Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach" Indiana University Press, 1991, 2001] have not included this in their long list of movements in Bach's oeuvre. Surprising, isn't it?

>>Or the sommeil-like recorders in unison that I mentioned earlier, in BWV 106.<<
Could this have something to do with the 'flauto doppio' which is documented in Italy and England before it is mentioned in French sources. In their commentary to an Italian source, Bonanni's "Gabinetto Armonico," Frank Harrison and Joan Rimmer refer to these flauti being played together: "they become rich in quality and hypnotic in effect." This sounds a bit like the 'sommeil-like' recorders in unison which may not have been a French innovation after all. Bach could have experienced this use of recorders through other sources or influences other than French.

>>For history including discussion of French sacred music and opera, in context and in the way Germany fits into this, I recommend Bianconi's book Music in the Seventeenth Century....and of course enrolling in university courses in music history......<<
It would be best to pass this information on to German Bach scholars so that they can complete their education in this matters.

>>There's exactly that list [of Bach cantats that were repeated in reruns without substantial changes] in Wolff's book. It need not be repeated here.
Wolff simply uses an asterisk to indicate a 'rerun' "in some cases with minor changes." This is very unclear and he does not even bother to distinguish what has been changed. Changing BWV 4 may have been described by Wolff as having minor changes, but then we know that Bach considered using the strings and trombones for their tonal flexibility instead of the instruments for which it was originally composed. That may be a minor change for some people, but a major one for those who consider that Bach may have dropped other woodwind parts. Then the before and after versions would have to be thought of as considerable and significant.

>>Writers about the keyboard toccatas, and early chorale preludes, and other early keyboard music of his..... It's pretty standard in the literature to look askance at those pieces as somehow too derivative from Buxtehude, too repetitious or square in the fugal bits, etc etc etc.<<
So it's only about keyboard music, but not Bach's early cantatas which are under discussion here.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (January 29, 2005):
Thomas Braatz writes: "Nothing is self-evident if even German Bach scholars have not noted these strong French influences on Bach's sacred music."
Something is either self-evident or it's not. Unless the suggestion is that something is only true if scholars assert it? Does that mean that non-scholars - non-academics and non-musicologists, perhaps - have nothing relevant to say about Bach's music?

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 29, 2005):
>>It [early Bach cantatas] sounds pretty much like 17th century music, in typical Germanic styles but with strong contemporary French influence.<<
< For any sort of credibility regarding the 'strong contemporary French influence,' some concrete evidence is needed to show how certain sacred vocal compositions by French composers written c. 1700 influenced Bach's early style of composing cantatas. If Böhm and Buxtehude are considered strongly influenced by French sacred music of their time, I would like to know more about this specifically as well. >
What are the "French Overtures" that John Butt refers to in the notes I recently quoted on BWV 61 or BWV 182 if not influenced by the French? Are they German French Overtures or did the French get them from the Germans? John Butt is not someone easily dismissed and these are works of young Bach.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 29, 2005):
[To Gabriel Jackson] It was just a play of the argument-by-authority fallacy, plus the questionable premise that German scholars automatically disgorge everything they know into print.

That is to say, not to worry.

I listened again to BWV 131 today. If not for the German words being sung, I could be easily convinced that the whole first movement (especially) was perhaps written by a Frenchman or a Belgian. It's the grace and ornamentation written into those musical figures. (Happened to be the Herreweghe recording this time.)

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 29, 2005):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Obviously I'm missing something here. Is it possible to segregate Bach's "sacred music" from Bach's music? Wolff (who most Germans would probably recognize as a scholar despite his US citizenship: can't imagine him being appointed as head of the Bach Archiv if not so) refers often to the early influence on Bach by foreign composers. In the Luneburg period (1703 Wolf believes) Bach gave brother Christoph keyboard music from many sources including Lebegue, lully, Marchand and Marais. While Wolf notes that Bach's keyboard development owned most to northern German influences, he also describes some of Bach's earliest works as having "charmingly pretentious concoction of Latin and Italian" titles. Bach's transcriptions of Vivaldi's concertos in 1713-14 are seen by Wolf (as earlier by Forkel) as a "critical moment" in Bach's development. This was the time when Bach began composing Neumeister style cantatas - wasn't the point of the Neumeister approach to employ the most modern (especially Italian operatic) techniques in German church music? No one is suggesting that Bach aped Vivaldi, Lully or anyone else. And certainly German influences were the strongest. But as I understand Wolff, one of his major points is that Bach was not the "country cantor" but rather musically a very cosmopolitan musician who was most knowledgeable about "state of the art" music being played in Germany and in other musical centers in Europe. If I've read this wrong, I would be glad to stand correction.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 29, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote: >>What are the "French Overtures" that John Butt refers to in the notes I recently quoted on BMV 61 or BWV 182 if not influenced by the French? Are they German French Overtures or did the French get them from the Germans? John Butt is not someone easily dismissed and these are works of young Bach.<<
I believe it is more a question of how Bach came into contact with musical influences from other countries, primarily Italian and French. So many of these influences had already been mixed, modified and continually changing (Bach was personally involved in taking these influences and changing them and coming up with an international style of composing and performing) that it would make little sense to try to track the French Ouverture back to an opera by Lully and claim that Bach copied the style and performance practice of such an overture very closely, thus creating a complete identification of the French original with Bach's resulting composition. This has resulted in the following ridiculous situation described by George Gow Waterman/James R. Anthony[quoted from Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 1/28/05]:

>>The French overture played a major role in the 20th-century controversy concerning the performance of dotted rhythms in French music. The problem concerns the double dotting (or overdotting) of notes and rests within the context of passages dominated by dotted rhythms. The conventional view, adhered to by most musicologists, was that in a French overture the lengthening of the dotted note and the corresponding shortening of the complementary note was common practice in performance, in spite of the notation. That view was first challenged in 1965 by Frederick Neumann, who held that the concept of double dotting was 'essentially a legend'. The battle of the double dot continues unabated, with charge and counter-charge often shedding more heat than light on a complex problem of performing practice.<<

Why not simply point to the fact that copies of compositions of various types (such as those which Bach copied out by moonlight as a boy) were being circulated, studied and copied/expanded in Bach's own environment. Among these compositions would, no doubt,be some by Johann Pachelbel. Here is a short description by Joseph Butler from the Grove Music Online:

>>Pachelbel's G major partita for five-part strings consists of a sequence of six movements that gives it the identity of a German 17th-century orchestral suite, though the placing of an aria between the sarabande and the gigue looks forward to the early 18th century. The work is, moreover, a variation suite in which all the subsequent movements begin with a motif related to the first five notes of the first violin part of the opening sonatina. In general the first violin is given preferential treatment, but the gigue is of the fugal French type with all five parts sharing in the thematic statements. The three-part canon over a bass is one of Pachelbel's most admired works. In it he combined two of the strictest contrapuntal techniques in a fine display of technical mastery: the bass, a two-bar ostinato, is the foundation of 28 variations, while above this the three violins proceed in two-bar sections in a relentless canon.<<

Isn't it more likely that Bach would have taken over the 5-pt. string composition from Pachelbel rather than straining to prove that he got it from a French source? The fugal French giga form was already firmly established as part of a continuing German tradition when Bach came upon it.

Then consider also the 'Allemande' [a French word for a German dance] as it is used by J.S. Bach. Bach has compositions in which the 'French Overture' form is embedded in dance which the French acknowledge is German in origin. Meredith Little states this as follows:

>>The 37 titled allemandes of J.S. Bach form an artistic high point of the genre. All are pieces for a soloist, and are found in his keyboard suites, two of the solo violin partitas, and all six of the cello suites. Bach incorporated a wide variety of styles, including the French overture style (BWV827 and 830), ornamental aria (BWV828 and 829), two-voice counterpoint using triplets (BWV829), as well as established idiomatic techniques such as motivic play and a pseudo-polyphonic texture. An example [not given] shows the openings of allemandes by J.S. Bach (c1722) and his earlier contemporary Froberger (c1681). Another example illustrates differences in texture exploited by German composers such as Pachelbel; other examples may be found in suites by F.T. Richter, J.C.F. Fischer, Gottlieb Muffat and J.P. Krieger, and in the deliberately archaic allemande movement of Mozart's suite for piano K399/385I (1782).<<

All of the above should illustrate how complicated the situation in attempting to determine influence has become. International styles were 'cooked up' in a cauldron and what resulted in Bach's (Pachelbel's and others' cases) was a unique broth that is no longer clearly traceable to it origins, nor was there even an attempt to make this clear: Bach entitled BWV 61/1 simply "Ouverture" and not 'Französische Overtüre' while he changed it considerably to include a chorale and 'Choreinbau.' Even more remarkable is the 'Choreinbau' of BWV 110/1 which is based upon Ouvertüre BWV 1069/1. Did Lully ever have a powerful chorus singing a 'French Ouverture'?

And yet we have musicologists who insist that such a 'French Ouverture' must be performed precisely according to the prescriptions of the French performance style as it existed under Lully.

John Reese wrote (January 29, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Is arranging a composition by Palestrina or composing something based upon it "deliberate" archaism when Palestrina lived from 1514/1525/1528-29 to 1594, a century or two before Bach? Were congregations in the first half of the 18th century hearing such works regularly performed blissfully unaware of the strong historical connotations long-standing tradition of such a motet style? >
Yes, they probably were. The attitudes toward old music were different back then -- people wanted NEW music. Not until the 1770's did the Academy of Ancient Music emerge, dedicated to music of the "ancients". But even then, what was considered "ancient" music was only fifty years old or so. (see "The Story of Christian Music" by Andrew Wilson-Dickson. Also, Schweizer's description of attitudes toward music in Bach's time)

< What may seem completely normal to you, may not be completely normal for others. It is just as possible that your personal experience in composing may have created a special 20th-century bias that can not be easily laid aside, thus preventing a more objective view of Bach's early development that may be gained by someone who has studied the historical record more carefully. >
Studying the historical record is no substitute for the experience of composition. Composing in the twentieth (or twenty-first) century has more in common with seventeenth or eighteenth century composition than you might think. Although the harmonic and melodic syntax is quite different, many of the principles of sound craftsmanship in composition are the same today as they were then. For instance, the problem of transitioning between varying sections was just a sticky problem for me as a twenty-year-old composition student as it was for Bach at that age. I have to say, Bach handled it much better than I ever did.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 29, 2005):
I wrote: << Writers about the keyboard toccatas, and early chorale preludes, and other early keyboard music of his..... It's pretty standard in the literature to look askance at those pieces as somehow too derivative from Buxtehude, too repetitious or square in the fugal bits, etc etc etc. >>

And a potshot was launched at it: < So it's only about keyboard music, but not Bach's early cantatas which are under discussion here. >
Experience playing young Bach's organ music, and that of his contemporaries, as a professional organist in church services is somehow not relevant to understanding young Bach's professional job as a church organist/composer/improviser? And that somehow has no bearing on understanding Bach's development as a composer of vocal music, either?

This is absurd.

The day that Georg Bohm's and Dietrich Buxtehude's organ/keyboard music has no bearing on Bach's vocal music, whatsoever, would be a remarkably dark and Orwellian day indeed.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 29, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>Experience playing young Bach's organ music, and that of his contemporaries, as a professional organist in church services is somehow not relevant to understanding young Bach's professional job as a church organist/composer/improviser? And that somehow has no bearing on understanding Bach's development as a composer of vocal music, either? This is absurd.
The day that Georg Bohm's and Dietrich Buxtehude's organ/keyboard music has no bearing on Bach's vocal music, whatsoever, would be a remarkably dark and Orwellian day indeed.<<
For other readers of these lines as well as for myself, please share with us some specific examples, other than chorale preludes or chorale partitas that show a great similarity in form or structure between organ/keyboard music by J. S. Bach, Georg Böhm, or Dietrich Buxtehude and Bach's early cantatas.

Compare, for instance, with specific examples, Bach's early toccatas or Buxtehude's praeludia-toccata-like compositions with Bach's early cantatas.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 30, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] What's this, a challenge for evidence in recognizing self-evident musical parallels, to make sure I have some evidence? All right then.

Cantata BWV 4 is, overall, a chorale partita like some dozen chorale partitas (for solo organ) by Georg Böhm, just a big variation set with the way it's a smorgasbord of varied little settings. Or play through Böhm's sprawling setting of "Christ lag in Todesbanden" itself, for another example of sectional music: the way it goes through the chorale phrase by phrase, switching meters and other parts of the texture whenever the ideas have gone along for a while. And the way it finishes up as a gigue. Buxtehude's setting of "Wie schön leuchtet" is like that too, that toccata-like form onto a long chorale working it out.

Cantata BWV 131 has those little echo bits near the end of the first movement. Well, how about the same type of thing coming up in Buxtehude's organ-fantasia setting of "Nun freut euch" BuxWV 210? It's a typical thing to do having a couple of different manuals set up with contrasting registration, switching back and forth every few notes as echoes. (Or in Sweelinck, of course.) It's fun to listen to and easy to compose.

The third movement of BWV 131 starts out with a texture that is hardly anything more than typical improvisatory organ Zwischenspiel interspersed among a bunch of simple chords, but written out for voices instead of for organ. Then it dissolves into a patch of sequencing, sort of, but gets stuck in tonic and dominant...in search of some clear-cut formal progression. A formulaic bunch of divisions filling up space in the orchestration, too. All very competently written, of course, but where's the special distinction that we expect from the later Bach?

(Don't misunderstand, I enjoy listening to these early cantatas, but they also give me the impression they could have been written by any of a couple dozen competent composers of the time. This is all typical late-17th-century stuff as to stretching out form and filling up time. Likewise my impressions from playing through the Neumeister chorales: they're typical stuff that any of dozens of decent organist-composers could and did come up with, in the mould of Pachelbel. Bach's own cousin Walther, the dictionary guy, cranked out quite a lot of these, too: chorale partitas and individual little settings, with a Pachelbel-like basic form to them and a strong dose of French ornamentation mixed into them.)

This is bread-and-butter stuff to pick up and play on Sunday mornings, presenting variously decorated settings of chorales. And the distinction here between organ music and vocal music is trivial, only a matter of ad hoc reorchestration. Try, for example, Pachelbel's three-part organ setting of "Nun lob mein' Seel'" where the middle voice is the plain old chorale sung straight out. Give that to a tenor or soprano to sing, and then play the other parts, either on organ or strings or both. Voila, instant cantata movement. (I've done this particular one with a tenor, as an instant solo with organ.)

Cantata BWV 106, as I've already mentioned, has arioso bits strung together all over, and little fugal bits interspersed. This is toccata/praeludium form, again like any number of the Buxtehude praeludia for organ (or three by Böhm), or indeed their formal descendant, Bach's own keyboard toccatas.

And also in BWV 106, listen to that foursquare and regular alternation of tonic and dominant in the fugue in the last movement, with the entrances completely predictable (as to how far apart they are spaced). This is young Bach having not found his way yet to inject more irregularity into his fugues, but rather being stuck with a formulaic and rather pedantic pattern (not the same thing as trying deliberately to make a pedantic-sounding effect!). Same problem he had in the BWV 913 toccata, often getting stuck in his tonic and dominant and at predictably regular times.

These are not earth-shattering observations here. I'm sure that other players of this organ and keyboard repertoire can come up with additional examples, without even thinking about it much. This is all basic stuff, in recognition of the types of music young Bach knew when he was just starting out as a composer. Bach here is filling in formulas, getting the basic compositional craft under his belt. Good role models, in these cases, but formulaic nonetheless.

Composition for organ or for voices is pretty much the same art, with the same handful of contrapuntal and formal techniques. This is basic church-musicianship, eminently practical. Some of it is hardly removed from improvisation anyway, even some of the fugal bits in Buxtehude et al. When it's reorchestrated as concerted vocal music, it doesn't suddenly become a magically difficult thing, it's just re-instrumentation of the same old techniques, and making sure they're feasible for voices.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 30, 2005):
After quoting my request correctly which read:
>>For other readers of these lines as well as for myself, please share with us some specific examples, other than chorale preludes or chorale partitas that show a great similarity in form or structure between organ/keyboard music by J. S. Bach, Georg Böhm, or Dietrich Buxtehude and Bach's early cantatas.
Compare, for instance, with specific examples, Bach's early toccatas or Buxtehude's praeludia-toccata-like compositions with Bach's early cantatas.<<

Bradley Lehman responded primarily with comparisons with chorale preludes and chorale partitas, after I had clearly asked him not to include these as examples, and he only gave a few general observations regarding the Toccata BWV 913. As he admitted:
>>These are not earth-shattering observations here...This is all basic stuff...with a formulaic and rather pedantic pattern...often getting stuck in his [Bach's] tonic and dominant and at predictably regular times....it's just re-instrumentation of the same old techniques, and making sure they're feasible for voices.<<
Simply put these are "self-evident musical parallels" that need no further explanation.

This brings to mind the German word 'selbstverständlich' which I explained earlier at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz.htm

There I had stated:
>>Now we come to Schering's main argument which is based on that marvelous German word "Selbstverständlichkeit" ["Selfunderstoodness" "Itgoeswithoutsayingness = "Withoutaquestionness" - If a German ever wants you not to question his motives or ask why he is doing something a certain way, he will say, "Es ist doch selbstverständlich" which means 'simply accept it as it is.'] Schering waves his magic wand using this word and then condescends to explain to the reader that this was all part of an unspoken, undocumented esoteric tradition among musicians who played continuo parts of a secco recitative. Wherever recitatives of this sort were played, it was always done this way. The musicians translated the long bass notes in their minds to the shortened notes, because 'this was part of the general custom.'<<

So it is that we keep hearing the equivalent English word 'self-evident' being used repeatedly in recent days, when the hard questions regarding evidence and proof are being asked.

I was hoping for something much more specific than that which has been offered. Alas, we are left with a few general observations without the specific evidence that I had asked for originally.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 30, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Compare, for instance, with specific examples, Bach's early toccatas or Buxtehude's praeludia-toccata-like compositions with Bach's early cantatas.<<
Bradley Lehman responded primarily with comparisons with chorale preludes and chorale partitas, after I had clearly asked him not to include these as examples, and he only gave a few general observations regarding the Toccata BWV 913. >
Frankly, freely worked preludes really don't relate to many movements in anyone's cantatas. And the partita examples were germane to the Cantata BWV 4 discussion. I would add the "Sei Gegrusset" partita variations as another example of the variation structure.



Continue on Part 2

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Last update: ýFebruary 11, 2005 ý14:18:07