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Flawed Voices

 

 

“Flawed” Voices

Bradley Lehman
wrote (June 10, 2003):
Here's an interesting recent radio show about "flawed" voices, available on the web: http://www.wnyc.org/studio360/show010403.html

They talk about how some singers (whether from vocal production or range or tone or whatever) have inappropriate voices for one type of music but are perfect for another type of music. A "flaw" is only a contextual thing, in the ear of the beholder.

And no, the people in this program didn't use the derogatory term "demi-voix" for "voices that Tom Braatz would prefer not sing as soloists in Bach, because he thinks they're not 'fully trained' enough (i.e. loud enough) to be competent, even though they're fully professional singers."

Charles Francis wrote (June 11, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] It's interesting to read Bach's assessments of his pupils voices. He rates them primarily by loudness (gute starcke Stimme, starcke Stimme, ziemlich starcke Stimme, passable Stimme, Stimme etwas schwach) and by proficiency (feine, hübsche, ziemlich, mediocre, mittelmaässig, geringe). Around 3 pupils (out of the 10) have top notch grades.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 12, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] It's even more interesting to know for sure what Bach meant by "starck" or "etwas schwach". I don't think he only meant the degree of loudness they could bring forth. Besides powerful he could have meant "sonorous" and "not wobbly". "Feine" and "hübsche" are qualifications that do not denote proficiency in the first place in my opinion. They are subjective appreciations, although no doubt many others would have agreed with Bach, referring to the quality of the voice itself. Both in popular and classical music people often like certain voices, not for the fact that it is a fine technically skilled voice, but because they like the sound of it. At any rate, Bach does not use attributes like "halbe Stimme" or "Vollstimme".

Charles Francis wrote (June 12, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] Here are my translations to clarify the voice-types of Bach's pupils:

Primary categorisation:
"gute starcke Stimme" : good strong voice
"starcke Stimme" : strong voice
"ziemlich starcke Stimme" : rather strong voice
"passable Stimme" : quite OK (passable) voice
"Stimme etwas schwach" : voice a little weak

Secondary classification:
"feine" : fine / clear
"hübsche" : pretty / nice
"ziemlich mediocre" : rather mediocre
"mittelmässig" : average
"geringe" : weak / not good

Perhaps Thomas Braatz might wish to use Bach's more specific terminology ("passable Stimme" / "Stimme etwas schwach" / "ziemlich mediocre", "mittelmässig", "geringe") in preference to the generic term "halbe Stimme"?

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 14, 2003):
In order to understand what Bach meant with ‘eine gute starcke Stimme’ [a good strong voice] as a desirable trait for a vocalist performing his music, it is necessary to determine from authoritative sources just what this phrase must have meant to Bach.

For this purpose, unless one is engaged in wishful thinking that has almost no basis in fact, it is advantageous to consult the DWB (the German equivalent to the full OED for the English language.) Here it is possible to find quotations from the period (and possibly even from books that Bach owned or had been able to consult.) Here are definitions for ‘stark’ as applied to modify the noun ‘Stimme’ [voice]:

stark = kräftig, durchdringend, laut [strong when applied to describing a voice means ‘kräftig’=‘powerful’; ‘durchdringend’ = “succeeding in ‘coming through’ or being properly heard”; ‘laut’ = ‘loud.’

Michael Praetorius, in his Syntagma musicum, parts II & III (1619), equates ‘stark’ with ‘voll’ or ‘volliger’ [full voice] as a description of the most desirable voice quality that a singer can have: In pt. III, p. 231, Praetorius states that a music conductor should “…eine Stimme… erwehlen, [choose the voice of a singer] welche er mit vollem und hellem laut ohne Falsetten (das ist halbe und erzwungne Stimme) halten könne” [a voice which the singer can maintain/sustain with a full and clear sound without a falsetto – the latter is simply a ‘half’ or ‘forced’ voice.]

Praetorius uses quite precisely the term ‘half-voice’ [demi voix] as an undesirable trait for good vocalists. In the same book (II, p. 17, 19), Praetorius speaks of another desirable quality of a ‘strong’ voice: “Stimmumfang” [the extended/wide compass/range of a voice] He speaks of good basses that can sing a low ‘F’ (our current pitch) in a voice ‘gar stark’ [quite strong] ‘und mit volliger Stimme’ [and with a full voice.] Christoph Ernst Steinbach (1698-1744) documents and defines this term ‚volliger’ in his ‘…deutsches Wörterbuch…’ (Breslau, 1734, vol. 2, p. 902): „es erfordert eine völligere Stimme“ [it demands a fuller voice.]

The DWB equates, in this instance, ‚volliger’ [an older form] with ‚voll’ [full] which now means ‘complete with all registers involved’: ‘das volle Werk’ [organo pleno] applied to an organ means ‘with all the stops pulled.’ As late as 1774, Hiller, in his “Anweisung zum Gesang” still uses the term ‘volle Stimme’ [full voice] which the DWB defines as follows: ‘kann die zur größten Stärke entwickelte Stimme bezeichnen’ [can designate the voice that has been developed to its greatest strength/capacity.] Hiller states “er singt mit einem vollen Bass” [he sings with a full bass voice.]

Mattheson in “Der vollkommene Capellmeister” (Hamburg, 1739) in Part II, p. 97, refers to the ability of a very good vocalist not only to be able to sing ‚sotto voce’ in the Italian manner [and then remain at this level of sound production throughout an entire aria as most demi voix nowadays do], but also to be able to move ‘durch verschiedene Stuffen, mit stärckerer, und gantz starcker Stimme zu verfahren’ [through various volume levels using a voice that increases in volume until it reaches a very strong volume level.]

Johann Friedrich Agricola, who as a student performed under Bach’s direction for a number of years, in his “Anleitung zur Singkunst” (Berlin, 1757), points out directly the negative effects of a singer who ‘cheats’ by not being able or willing to sing out properly in a full voice, and prefers to ‘tap lightly’ most of the notes, particularly the faster-moving notes: “Wer alle geschwinden Passagien ganz piano singen, die Stärke seiner Stimme aber nur hier und da bey längern Noten hören lassen wollte; der würde zwar den Vortheil haben, daß er viele Fehler der Stimme bedecken, und auch die Passagien viel geschwinder als gewöhnlich ausführen könnte. Ob aber die Zuhörer, wenn sie, zumal an einem großen Orte, wenig oder gar nichts von den Passagien höreten, damit zufrieden seyn würden: daran zweifle ich“ [If the vocalist sings all the fast passages very softly {sotto voce}, and only occasionally allows the volume of his voice to heard on longer notes, then this singer might gain the advantage of being able to cover up many deficiencies in his voice, and he might be able to perform these passages much faster than usual. But I doubt very much that the listeners, particularly if the performance is taking place in a larger acoustic environment {such as a church} will be able to hear much, if anything at all of these passages, and I doubt also that the audience will be satisfied with such a performance.]

Notice that Agricola speaks of the “Stärke seiner Stimme” [the strength or fullness of his voice] as a positive attribute of a singer’s voice. In this book, which is a translation and a commentary on Tosi’s vocal methods, Agricola stresses how important it is to incorporate the ‘falsetto’ portions of a voice into the full voice so that the transition from one to the other is not noticeable (as, for instance, would occur with a ‘demi voix’ when the quality or volume level drops off considerably.) The problem with many, but not all, HIP vocalists is that, for a number of reasons about which one could speculate, it has become ‘fashionable’ to assume that a small, chamber-music type of voice which might pass when miked clas it sings mainly sotto voce, was the ideal voice which Bach had envisioned and heard in his church performances. The evidence that I have presented here points clearly toward a full, strong, clear, loud voice as being the basis from which an occasional digression toward a piano passage or a ‘messa di voce’ on a long, held note would be heard by a perceptive audience as the beautiful enhancement of such a voice. Voices that remain primarily on the sotto voce level and ‘cheat’ the audience of hearing the notes [some of which even have their notated values reduced] that Bach wrote in the weakest parts of their vocal range are properly called, to use the phrase possibly coined by Praetorius,: ‘halbe Stimmen’ [half voices.] Agricola even speaks of ‘schwache Stimmen’ [weak voices.] These are realities that existed in Bach’s time. Why should today’s vocalists suddenly be very different compared to those of an earlier time? If you listen closely enough to the vocalists singing in the Bach cantatas, you will begin to hear these differences which become quite apparent and are not to be denied except by those with a specific agenda that does not allow for these distinctions to be made.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (June 14, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] It seems that Bach wrote for voice the same way he would write for instruments, i.e., he showed no distinctions between the two. However, his wife Anna noted these deficiencies to her husband and would thus make changes where appropriate. This is what I learned in that cable program, the Great Composers put out by the BBC (alas, not available to Americans due to PAL). And since his singers were not allowed to breathe, it makes common sense that there should be more than one voice per part in a mass to cover up the breathing gaps and make the work more seamless.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 16, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < In order to understand what Bach meant with "eine gute starcke Stimme" [a good strong voice] as a desirable trait for a vocalist performing his music, it is necessary to determine from authoritative sources just what this phrase must have meant to Bach. >
Are the sources you mention really authorities as to what Bach meant? Can a dictionary give the answer?

Can Praetorius give the answer, whose standard work deals with performance practice one hundred years before Bach?

Is Steinbach's remark "It demands a full voice" a decisive answer?

Is Mattheson the one who can solve our problem? Indeed he was the most prolific writer on music of the age. Yet, Christian Postel in the accompanying booklets to Händel's Johannes Passion writes about Mattheson: "He was one of the leading lights of Hamburg musical life and had close friendship with Händel and Telemann - if occasionally marked by stormy episodes. . He twice analysed the passion in his journal ["Critica musica" - PB] in great detail . Mattheson completely dismisses the work, but the reader has the feeling that for the conceited and publicity seeking author it was not the work itself that interested him: he simply needed material to demonstrate his overpowering erudition and the superiority of his intellect." Sometimes I have the feeling we have Mattheson reincarnated on this list. Or would that be too much honour? Bach did not think highly of Mattheson, if we can trust professor John Butt in the Oxford Composer Companions. He [Mattheson - PB] repeatedly tried to gather information on Bach for his biographical lexicon of 1740; Bach either never read Mattheson's publications or did not care to provide any information." So far for Mattheson's authority.Agricola deals with quite a different issue, so he does not answer our question either.

Which leaves us with one authority, Thomas Braatz himself, who mixes up all bits and pieces to defend Braatz's law on half voices, demi voices, weak voices or messa voices and mentions them conveniently in one breath with deficient voices of cheating singers.

Let us look into what has been claimed in some more detail.

Thomas Braatz wrote: <For this purpose, unless one is engaged in wishful thinking that has almost no basis in fact, it is advantageous to consult the DWB (the German equivalent to the full OED for the English language.) Here it is possible to find quotations from the period (and possibly even from books that Bach owned or had been able to consult.) Here are definitions for "starke" as applied to modify the noun "Stimme":stark = kräftig, durchdringend, laut (powerful; succeeding in coming through or being properly heard, loud) >
Now, who is engaged in wishful thinking? Whose suppositions are based on
fact?

Suppose Bach had the same edition of the dictionary Braatz is quoting and would agree to the wording used here. Would he just measure the "Stärke einer Stimme" by measuring the number of decibels produced by a singer as heard in a CD recording? Would he say that only the Bryn Terfels and Pavarottis of our time are strong voices because these singers have powerful vocal organs and a large chest which they use to pump up the volume, very often for the wrong reasons? These operatic voices, would they have been bach's ideal of a strong voice? Thomas Braatz, have you ever heard the singers you can not refrain from criticizing in your reviews in a live concert? I have heard all the soloists in the Leusink recordings many, many times in different venues, and they never had any problems in conveying their music to the audiences, even those who you persistently call "half voices".

Thomas Braatz wrote: < Michael Praetorius, in his Syntagma musicum, parts II & III (1619), says that the most desirable voice quality a singer can have is a full voice. A music conductor should select singers with a voice that can sustain a full and clear sound without a falsetto. The latter is simply a half or forced voice and is undesirable trait for good vocalists. >
Obviously Praetorius is writing about tenors and occasional basses who have troubles in their higher registers. Trebles usually sing with a head-voice. Their problems are in the lower regions, where they have to shift to their chest-voice. Counter tenors use their "falsetto" technique throughout, although they also have to resort to their chest-voice or a blended voice when singing very low. Here the qualification "full" apparently does not mean powerful but wide-ranging without having to use falsetto.

Thomas Braatz wrote: < In the same book Praetorius speaks of another desirable quality of a strong voice: a voice with a wide range. He speaks of good basses that can sing a low F (our current pitch) in a voice quite strong and with a full voice. >
Now here it is again the width of the range that matters, and in this case it is solely about basses going into the depth.

Thomas Braatz wrote: < Christoph Ernst Steinbach (1698-1744) documents and defines this term: it demands a full voice. >
??? What is a strong voice? Answer: It is a full voice!!

Thomas Braatz wrote: < The DWB compares this to an organ with all registers involved, with all the stops pulled. As late as 1774, Hiller still uses the term full voice, which the DWB defines as follows: it can designate the voice that has been developed to its greatest strength. >
??? Whose greatest strength? The greatest strength a particular singer can produce? Or is there an objective criterion from 1 to 10 on the scale of Braatz?

Thomas Braatz wrote: < Mattheson in "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" (Hamburg, 1739) in Part II, p. 97, refers to the ability of a very good vocalist not only to be able to sing "sotto voce" in the Italian manner but also to be able to move through various volume levels using a voice that increases in volume until it reaches a very strong volume level. >
???Can anyone apart from Braatz tell me where we have to draw the line? When do I qualify?

Thomas Braatz wrote: < Johann Friedrich Agricola, who as a student performed under Bach's direction for a number of years, in his "Anleitung zur Singkunst" (Berlin, 1757), points out directly the negative effects of a singer who "cheats" by not being able or willing to sing out properly in a full voice, and prefers to tap lightly mof the notes, particularly the faster-moving notes: A vocalist who sings all the fast passages very softly , but only occasionally allows the volume of his voice to be heard on longer notes, might gain the advantages of covering up many deficiencies in his voice (or singing the wrong notes) and performing these passages much faster than usual. >
I believe Agricola when he mentions the fact that in his day there were singers with serious deficiencies, who could not sing the coloraturas properly. However, I am fed with these accusations that in HIP performances most singers just tap the fast notes to cover up their inadequacies. They do hit the right notes, but don't hammer on them. Yesterday, while zapping along, I fell into the Miserere Mei Deus by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, one of Johann Sebastian's sons, a performance by the Gächinger Kantorei, conducted by Helmuth Rilling. There was this tenor soloist whose name I do not know, having great problems in producing the coloraturas, giving all the fast notes too much weight. He sounded like someone trying to walk through the mud as quickly as possible or running through "Tiefschnee" , having his feet sucked back all the time. That is the other extreme and of course I am exaggerating. And yes, I admit that sometimes singers in HIP performances fail to hit all the notes, but they are not structurally cheating the audience and they are not incompetent singers trying to hide their lack of skill by singing over the notes. Like Francine Renee Hall remarked the other day, Bach treated his singers as instruments and I would say he wanted his instruments to sing. So when Bach writes semiquavers for a singer, the conductor should not slow down to a dragging pace where the soloist can manage to hit all the notes hard so that they almost become quavers. There is no such rule that tells us to sing throughout a piece with full power, no matter how strong your amplifier is. How piano is piano and how forte is forte. It is all relative, it is a matter of being a good musician and it is a matter of taste and convention. There is no absolute truth in this.

Thomas Braatz wrote: < But I doubt very much that the listeners, particularly if the performance is taking place in a larger acoustic environment will be able to hear much, if anything at all of these passages, and I doubt also that the audience will be satisfied with such a performance. >
As I already said, I have heard Ruth Holton, Sytse Buwalda and Bas Ramselaar quite often in different Bach cantatas and passions in large churches like the ones in Leipzig and in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The audiences could hear them throughout the halls and were delighted with their performances.

Thomas Braatz wrote: < Agricola stresses how important it is to incorporate the "falsetto" portions of a voice into the full voice so that the transition from one to the other is not noticeable. >
That is true, but has nothing to do with the concept of a strong voice we are discussing here. Notice, for that matter, how hard you will find it with an accomplished counter-tenor like Sytse Buwalda, whether you like his voice or not, to hear the transition from regular chest-voice to falsetto.

Braatz states that with many HIP vocalists it has become "fashionable" to assume that a small, chamber-music type of voice which might pass when miked closely as it sings mainly sotto voce, was the ideal voice which Bach had envisioned and heard in his church performances. I have given evidence that these singers do possess a full, strong, clear, loud voice with good sonorous quality. They do not need a microphone other than for recording purposes. So let us stop talking about "halbe Stimmen" for this is utter nonsense. Braatz asked why today's vocalists should suddenly be very different compared to those of an earlier time? I do not believe they are so much different. If you hear differences between singers in the Bach cantatas recordings, do not disqualify those voices you do not like based on Braatz's law. Do not apply criteria which can not be proved. Try to enjoy or at least respect recordings by those who have an opinion unlike your own. There is no monopoly of truth in this except for those with a specific agenda.

Ivan Lalis wrote (June 16, 2003):
Singing with a full voice all the time is so 50s. I guess it was introduced with verismo operas when singers were made to deliver emotions bigger than life over a thundering orchestra. If we listen to old recordings, e.g, Caruso and the like they did manage quite well and they were actually singing the music. The problem is this style expanded beyond verismo works. And as we get further towards the 50s and later it's getting worse and worse, we get singers rather shouting than singing, who are unable to sing below mf.

Turning point for female singers was probably Callas who reintroduced bel-canto technique, where dynamics plays an important role as a means of embellishment. Let's take Caballe as an example. One would consider her "half-voice" as she liked to use their (heavenly) pianissimi a lot. But she had no problem to sing with full voice when necessary. Listen to her Orange Norma, where she demonstrates both as a dramatic means. Actually, at present, bel-canto technique is quite common with sopranos and mezzos. It's still rarer with tenors as the ideal for many is still a tenor shouting his lungs out.

As I already wrote, I find it more difficult to control voice dynamics than to sing ff all the time. There's nothing wrong with prefering to sing Bach with full voice. But accusing current singers whose voices are much better trained, with bigger flexibility, who choose not to sing everything ff is quite arrogant.

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (June 16, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] I couldn't agree more on Peter's defining answer to Braatz's continuous yap on demi-voices. The man doesn't know what he is talking about. He obviously is no singer himself and confuses for instance falsetto with head register. Let this old man enjoy in his arm chair the operatic performances of good old Rilling and the like, with the amplifier at maximum level. But simply ignore his reviews on HIP performances. As we have learned before, too much people on this list missed interesting recordings, just because of his unworthy remarks.

I was planning to contribute a music example of BWV 34 of the Laurenscantorij to this site, but somehow the appetite has gone...

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 17, 2003):
< Arjen van Gijssel wrote: I was planning to contribute a music example of BWV 34 of the Laurenscantorij to this site, but somehow the appetite has gone... >
Although cantata BWV 34 is not short of good recordings (HIP & Non-HIP alike), I am curious to hear the Laurenscantorij. Please, sent the music examples (mp3 format preferred) to my personal e-mail address and I shall upload them to the Bach Cantatas Website.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 17, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal wrote: >>Bach did not think highly of Mattheson, if we can trust professor John Butt in the Oxford Composer Companions. He [Mattheson - PB] repeatedly tried to gather information on Bach for his biographical lexicon of 1740; Bach either never read Mattheson’s publications or did not care to provide any information.” So far for Mattheson’s authority.<<
John Butt puts the final statement to his article on Mattheson very awkwardly: it can either be understood as a typographical error where 'publications' should read 'publication' where the latter refers only to Mattheson's effort in collecting information for his biographical lexicon of 1740 (this fact would be acceptably correct) or it gives evidence of Butt's underestimation of what really transpired between Bach and Mattheson. To Butt's credit, he did state that Mattheson was involved in "sometimes printing his [Bach's] fugal subjects and canons." Unfortunately, Butt's concise article leads readers to the come to an oversimplified conclusion regarding the relationship between Mattheson and Bach as evident in Peter Bloemendaal's reading of Butt's a: "Bach did not think highly of Mattheson."

BWV 1074 Canon a 4 appears (according to the NBA VIII/1 pp. 16-17) to have been sent expressly to Mattheson as a copper-engraving print. Mattheson acknowledges the date on which he received it from Bach: August 18, 1727. Details are documented in "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" pp. 412-413. Among other things Mattheson refers to the honor that Bach had given him by attending Mattheson's "Melopoetisches Collegium" when Bach was in Hamburg and that Bach now honored him by sending this 'Canon aenigmaticus' to him, which he then promptly shared with the other members of the Collegium to see who might be able to 'solve the puzzle-canon' which Bach had sent as a challenge. Of interest is the fact that Telemann printed this canon in his "Der getreue Music-Meister" (Hamburg, 1728), a year later, after Mattheson had already shared it with his Collegium. A good decade later, Mattheson finally got around to printing it in his "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" (Hamburg, 1739) and giving the full circumstances surrounding this canon: Bach had composed it for Mattheson and his colleagues in the Collegium which Bach had once attended earlier.

It appears that Mattheson and Bach were 'able to agree to disagree', notwithstanding the fact that Bach never sent Mattheson the requested biography. The reasons for this failure of communication in regard this unfulfilled request is open to speculation, but to characterize as primarily acrimonious the professional relationship between these two important figures of the 1st half of the 18th century would simply be an untenable contention/conclusion.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 17, 2003):
Bach and Mattheson, and John Butt's reasoning

[To Thomas Braatz] Probably not acrimonious, no; Bach and Mattheson didn't take it to a duel, the way Händel and Mattheson did (Mattheson almost killing Händel). Would we have liked Mattheson more or less if he had killed Händel?

John Butt's article about Mattheson in the Oxford Composer Companion (Bach) is indeed short. (Perhaps because the editor, Malcolm Boyd, also understands that Mattheson is not in a pantheon of People Most Influential on Bach, or People Who Understood Bach?) Mattheson is well and good for theory and history, but he's not as directly relevant to Bach performance practice as Braatz would have us believe from his regular quotations from Mattheson--especially when the reliance on Mattheson RESTRICTS performers' options to some presumed "correct" approach which is really just a justification of Braatz' own opinion....

[And it's a little puzzling why Braatz would castigate and dismiss other contemporary writers because they weren't top-notch composers themselves, but rely so heavily on Mattheson who also wasn't. That whole line of reasoning is a fallacy anyway, as has been shown, but I just thought it was interesting to observe Braatz' double standard here. If Braatz likes a writer, he's in; if he doesn't like him, or if he negates Braatz' predetermined points, he's out.]

Here's what Butt wrote about Mattheson in "Bach's Metaphysics of Music", an essay in The Cambridge Companion to Bach. He devotes several pages to placing Mattheson's various writings into historical context, and then wraps it up:

"Mattheson's interest in church music seems to have been spurred on by the collapse of the Hamburg opera and, in particular, by current polemics about theatrical church music. For him, the stylistic advances of opera could now be defended only within the institutional framework of the church. This is not to doubt the sincerity of his growing interest in the vitality and spiritual necessity of church music as the end to which all music should aim, but it is clear that his point of departure--in the operatic world--and his early Enlightenment musical tastes, do not immediately conjure up the figure of J. S. Bach. Indeed, he seems never to have shown particular concern for the latter's music. And, in any case, Bach's compositional style and attitude were formed well before the relevant writings of Mattheson appeared, in the mid to late 1720s." (p51)

Charles Francis wrote (June 18, 2003):
[To Arjen ban Gijssel] Personally, I don't find Rillings performances operatic, but rather devotional. For operatic performances try Paul McCreesh!

By the way, why are so many Dutch people fond of HIP? Is it the legacy of Leonhardt or Calvin?

Continue of the part of the discussion, see: Members 2003

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 18, 2003):
It is not at all remarkable that Lehman beats the drums against Mattheson because of his great fear that ‘Mattheson RESTRICTS performers’ options.’ This seems to be the reason why Lehman completely disregards the critical point of information which I had supplied: Bach had attended one of meetings of Mattheson’s Collegium which included other musicians from the Hamburg area. In his writings, although critical about certain aspects of Bach’s methods and compositions, Mattheson nevertheless speaks highly of Bach with great admiration of his abilities. Possibly as the result of a request by Mattheson for an example of a canon which the musicians/performers in his Collegium must try to solve, Bach sends him a truly difficult musical problem/puzzle.

It is a typical evasive technique on the part of Lehman to avoid referring specifically to the circumstances surrounding BWV 1074 as if they did not exist because Butt does not refer to this important incident (at least as far as Lehman could determine as he made an effort to see what else Butt had to say about Mattheson.) Lehman, as a product of a university training with which he completely identifies, assumes that Butt’s lack of information on this topic means that any contrary evidence offered by ‘outsiders,’ evidence that threatens current thinking on matters such as the relationship between Bach and Mattheson, is to be understood as suspect and even dangerous to the freedom of musical interpretation which Lehman et al have arrogated to themselves.

Indeed, Butt’s summary of the relationship between Bach and Mattheson seems to overlook entirely the episode that I related. How else is it possible to state: “Indeed, he [Mattheson] seems never to have shown particular concern for the latter's [Bach’s] music”[from Lehman’s quote of Butt’s summary]? But in his article in “The Oxford Composer Companion” on Mattheson, Butt contradicts himself by stating “He often admired Bach’s organ performance and fugal writing, sometimes printing his fugue subjects and canons.”

Also: “And, in any case, Bach's compositional style and attitude were formed well before the relevant writings of Mattheson appeared, in the mid to late 1720s." (p51) Yes, and Niedt and Bach have even less in common than Mattheson and Bach, and yet Dreyfus and others have no problem in granting Niedt considerable credibility when they go searching about for ‘evidence’ to bolster their own theories. Go figure! Where is the double standard here? Right where Lehman claims that it does not exist.

Lehman’s comments might carry a bit more weight if he did not deliberately avoid confronting issues head on and did not engage in evasion and obfuscation. By hiding behind the contradictory views offered by Butt and presenting these as evidence while not being willing or able to admit that a revision of these opinions of others is necessary, Lehman exposes his inability to examine overlooked evidence with an unbiased viewpoint and his inability to provide a significant and meaningful correction of the evidence which I have presented. Certainly a more worthy response than the present one could be expected of an individual who frequently reminds us that he should be thought of as a musically erudite scholar/performer/composer, etc., etc.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 19, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Tom, I have no quarrel with Johann Mattheson or his presumed relevance to Bach. You may quote him, and Alfred Durr, and any of your other personal heroes, as much as amuses you. It seems to amuse you quite a bit.

The problem is with self-trained, self-guided non-musicians such as yourseltrying to tell professional musicians and musicologists how to do their jobs. All you're doing here is telling us the types of musical results you personally don't care to hear, vehemently; and then eagerly searching your books to find some sort of historical justification for your OWN position, to beat serious musicians over the head, to tell us things we "must not" do in communicating the music we love.

If you don't like certain approaches to the music, just don't listen to it. Don't waste your time writing about it, and don't waste our time sifting through your anti-HIP soapbox lectures to find any real information. You're not doing anybody any service by telling us week after week after week how much you hate Nikolaus Harnoncourt and all his evil minions, and telling us that no one working in this field has any intelligence or understanding anymore, or any capability for independent thought. All you're doing is justifying YOUR preferences with pseudo-historical support, from a selective reading of sources you like, whining about how everybody currently working in music or musicology is an idiot. Why bother? (And now you'd like to take down the professional career of Dr John Butt, on the charge that you--with no training in musicology--don't care for his findings? Get a life.)

And now, I'm out for some days of much-needed holiday. Road trip to family and friends, and to help with somebody's wedding, and to rest and relax with some good books.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 20, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
To Butt's credit, he did state that Mattheson was involved in "sometimes printing his [Bach's] fugal subjects and canons."

<<Here we go again: blame Butt for giving evidence against Braatz’s idea on Mattheson being a Bach authority; give Butt credit for an observation that might indicate that Mattheson had some authority on Bach’s ideas about ideal voices and the way they should be used, particularly in Bach’s cantatas. Instead of accusing Brad Lehman over the Mattheson dispute, Thomas Braatz had better check his own prejudices, presuppositions, preconceived opinions and wishful research.

As a matter of fact, Mattheson did not care much about Bach’s vocal works. He praised Bach as an excellent organist and as the composer of the “Art of Fugue”, but although he mentioned how honoured he was on receiving the BWV 1074 Canon in August 1727, he completely disregarded the first performance of St. Matthew Passion a few months earlier. He was evidently far more interested in Händel and Telemann as composers. Their repertoire and musical vocabulary was more to his taste than Bach’s. Mattheson was a man of the world, a man of the opera. In his eighteenth year he sang the leading part in his own first opera. He ridiculed Bach’s declamation in BWV 21 – “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis”, one of Bach’s finest compositions. Below the translation from “The New Bach Reader”:

“In order that good old Zachau may have company, and not be quite so alone, let us set beside him an otherwise excellent practicing musician of today, who for a long time does nothing but repeat:

“I,I,I,I had much grief, I had much grief, in my heart, in my heart. I had much grief, etc., I had much grief, etc., in my heart, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., I had much grief, etc., in my heart, etc.”

Then again: ”Sighs, tears, sorrow, anguish (rest), sighs, tears, anxious longing, fear and death (rest) gnaw at my oppressed heart, etc.”

Also: “Come my Jesus, and refresh (rest) and rejoice with Thy glance (rest), come, my Jesus (rest), come, my Jesus, and refresh and rejoice … with Thy glance this soul, etc.”

[The etceteras stand for the repeat signs Mattheson used here.]

Obviously, Mattheson did not show great appreciation for Bach’s church music and his vocal works in particular, among which the cantatas and oratorios have pride of place. It stands to reason that when writing "Der vollkommene Capellmeister", Mattheson did not have J.S. Bach in mind but his illustrious self, Johann Mattheson, Capellmeister of the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
BWV 1074 Canon a 4 appears (according to the NBA VIII/1 pp. 16-17) to have been sent expressly to Mattheson as a copper-engraving print. Mattheson acknowledges the date on which he received it from Bach: August 18, 1727. Details are documented in pp. 412-413. Among other things Mattheson refers to the honor that Bach had given him by attending Mattheson's "Melopoetisches Collegium" when Bach was in Hamburg and that Bach now honored him by sending this 'Canon aenigmaticus' to him, which he then promptly shared with the other members of the Collegium to see who might be able to 'solve the puzzle-canon' which Bach had sent as a challenge.

Of interest is the fact that Telemann printed this canon in his "Der getreue Music-Meister" (Hamburg, 1728), a year later, after Mattheson had already shared it with his Collegium. A good decade later, Mattheson finally got around to printing it in his "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" (Hamburg, 1739) and giving the full circumstances surrounding this canon: Bach had composed it for Mattheson and his colleagues in the Collegium which Bach had once attended earlier.

<<I am not sure if and, if so, when Bach attended Mattheson’s Collegium. He visited Hamburg in 1702 in order to listen to the revered organist and composer Johann Adam Reincken, whose fabulous organ playing was already legendary at the time. He may have visited the city again in 1706 on his way back to Arnstadt from Lübeck. He might have seen Mattheson then, but it is not very likely that Mattheson would have invited the then still relatively unknown Arnstadt organist. According to the Oxford Composer Companions, Bach did not visit Hamburg again until 1720, a few months after the death of his first wife Maria Barbara, because he was interested in the vacant post of organist at the Jacobikirche with its famous four-manual Schnitger organ. He stayed there for a couple of days, playing many a fine church organ. He astonished Reincken, then 98 years of age(!), with his improvisation on the latter’s masterpiece, the elaborate chorale “An Wasserflüssen Babylon” [“By the Rivers of Babylon”]. There is no mention of Bach attending M’s Collegium, nor is it probable he would have had the time for it in these two or three days. Bach did not really enter the race for the post in spite of the great Hamburg church organs for obvious reasons. In order to achieve the position, the candidate had to contribute a large amount of money to the treasury of the church. Mattheson knew of Bach’s initial interest and of his visit to Hamburg in 1720, but he did not mention they actually met. He did not even write about the appointment process at the time. He only gave Bach one sentence in “Das beschützte Orchestre” (1717) and then did not write about him until 1725, when he gave his derisive comment on BWV 21 – “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis”, printed above.

Indeed, Mattheson wished to call the great composers of his time his friends, but apparently for his own sake. Their friendship would shine on him, and what’s more, being a vast and influential writer and a critic “avant la lettre”, he could use them by showing off his vast knowledge and by criticizing them on various occasions and issues, yet always mentioning his great esteem for them. In this way, he established a throne for himself as the uncrowned king of musical Hamburg. I think, Mattheson did not mind at all that Bach gave up his ambition to become the city’s first organist. Bach’s genius might have outshone Mattheson’s mere competence. Bach in this position would be too close for comfort to Mattheson. Yet, many years later, it is he who gives an interesting anecdote of the appointment of the new organist in “Der musicalische Patriot” (1728):

“I remember, and a whole large congregation will probably also remember, that a few years ago a certain great virtuoso, whose merits have since brought him a handsome Cantorate, presented himself as candidate for the post of organist in a town of no small size, exhibited his playing on the most various and greatest organs, and aroused universal admifor his ability; but there presented himself at the same time, among other unskilled journeymen, the son of a well-to-do artisan, who was better at preluding with his thalers than with his fingers, and he obtained the post, as may be easily conjectured, despite the fact that almost everyone was angry about it. This took place just at Christmas time [Bach was long back at Cöthen by the time -- PB], and the eloquent chief preacher [Erdmann Neumeister, the famous cantata text writer - PB], who had not concurred in the Simoniacal deliberations, expounded in the most splendid fashion the gospel of the music of the angels at the birth of Christ, in which connection the recent incident of the rejected artist [Bach was not rejected, but had withdrawn before the actual nomination procedure had started – PB] gave him quite naturally the opportunity to reveal his thoughts, and to close his sermon with something like the following pronouncement: he was firmly convinced that even if one of the angels of Bethlehem should come down from Heaven, one who played divinely and wished to become organist of St. Jacobi, but had no money, he might just as well fly away again.”

Bach’s “Canon à Quatre” was not dedicated to Mattheson but “dédié à Monsieur Houdemann”. Five years later, Hudemann, a legal scholar as well as a musician, composer and poet, wrote Bach a short ode in four stanzas, probably in recognition of the intricate canon Bach dedicated to him in 1727:

If in dim ages past

If in dim ages past the sound of Orpheus’ lute
Just as it did touch men, touch’d ev’ry creature mute,
Then, O Great Bach, must your success be even higher,
Since your art none but thinking men can ever fire.

And surely this does fit experience full well:
For mortals oft like animals are seen to dwell,
When their too empty souls fail your deserts to see,
And they no more than beasts in pow’r of judgment be.

Scarce do you send your tones to my attentive ear,
It seems the choir of all the Muses that I hear;
An organ chord by you must even put to shame
The serpent’s tongue of envy and of sland’rous blame.

Apollo long ago gave you the laurel crown,
And of your name in marble etched the great renown,
But you alone, through your strings’ living harmony
Preparest, perfect Bach, your immortality.

Here speaks a sincere Bach fan. An intelligent man with a versatile mind, who claims that all thinking men must find inspiration in Bach’s music and those who speak about him with envy and slander are like animals with empty brains and souls. It does not surprise me that Bach dedicated the enigmatic little canon BWV 1074 to this modest, sympathetic admirer of his and not to the conceited Mattheson, whose lifestyle and character were so much different from Bach’s..

The question why Bach dedicated the “Canon for four Voices” to Houdemann, interesting as it may be, does not intrigue me as much as the reason why Bach did present the Canon to the Collegium after all, and why he sent it to Mattheson in the first place. Was it because presenting musical puzzles and riddles was fashionable among members of musical societies at the time? But then, Johann Sebastian was not a member and did not wish to become one, for that matter. Was it vanity that prompted Bach? Did he have to prove his worth? He, who had just finished St. Matthew Passion, the most intricate of oratorios? Not likely. Was it because Mattheson had repeatedly asked him to contribute a piece for the members to discuss in their lectures? Was it because he did not want to refuse Mattheson’s urgent request bluntly? Was this musical enigma a challenge by Bach or a subtle statement that his compositions would always be a mystery to Mattheson? Was it a mere cloaking device or a more overt attempt to silence the man whose ironic and sometimes sarcastic criticism would never fail to find new victims? Indeed, quite successful it was, for Mattheson had to admit: “I have never devoted any more time and trouble to it than was required for the mere copying of the above, and should rather have spared myself that, too, if I did not believe that the quotation of the little piece might contribute to many a reader’s instruction or reflection.” In spite of the disparaging tone, typically Mattheson and no doubt meant to show his superiority, he factually confessed that this puzzle was too much for him.

Thomas Braatz said:
It appears that Mattheson and Bach were 'able to agree to disagree', notwithstanding the fact that Bach never sent Mattheson the requested biography. The reasons for this failure of communication in regard this unfulfilled request is open to speculation, but to characterize as primarily acrimonious the professional relationship between these two important figures of the 1st half of the 18th century would simply be an untenable contention/conclusion.

<<”The New Bach Reader” (p. 324) describes Mattheson as the most colourful figure among the authors of Bach’s time. He had been given an excellent education, which included singing, playing on five instruments, composing, dancing, drawing, arithmetic, fencing, horseback riding, languages and law. He was a character of his own. Invited to succeed Buxtehude in Lübeck, he declined the post, because in order to obtain it, custom would have obliged him to marry Buxtehude’s daughter. Yet, I think Mattheson’s main reasons for not coming to Lübeck were preferences beyond matrimony. Bach was a great admirer of Buxtehude, who was a great organist and an important composer of sacred vocal works. Buxtehude exerted a profound influenece on the young Bach, who visited him in Lübeck for three months in 1705-6. Mattheson’s priorities, however, lay elsewhere. His career would be in the world, not in the church.

Some more quotes from “The New Bach Reader”:

“Mattheson himself had a successful and remunerative career, serving in various musical capacities and carrying out diplomatic missions.”

“In addition to being a competent composer, Mattheson was the most prolific musical writer of his time. Although given to parading his knowledge, he was basically a sensitive and progressive man. He introduced the terms “major” and “minor” into German musical theory, and he fought successfully for the abandonment of solmization. His “Critica Musica” of 1722 may be called the first musical periodical in any language. His “Musicalische Ehrenpforte” (1740) was a valuable collection of biographies and autobiographies. And his larger theoretical works, including particularly “Der volkommene Capellmeister” (1739), are among the most comprehensive documents of contemporary theory.

Mattheson was continually involved in polemics. Ambitious and conceited, he took delight in appraising the output of other musicians and theorists and in criticizing every weakness he could spot. For better or for worse, he was the first professional music critic.”

Looking back, we may regret Bach did not send his biography to Mattheson. Is not it ironic, that in spite of Bach’s denial to do so, we owe quite some documented information about our favourite composer to Mattheson. It is apparent, that Bach and Mattheson showed incompatibility of character and irreconcilable ideas. In that case detachment is a wise decision. John Butt’s assessment in the Oxford Composer Companions that Bach either never read Mattheson’s publications or did not care to provide any information is therefore a justified observation. For the matter of our argument –Mattheson as an authority on singing, especially with regard to Bach’s sacred works – there is no doubt that Mattheson had a thorough knowledge of contemporary prevailing practices and theories in the musical scene of Northern Germany and beyond, but that he had little affinity with the sacred music of the time and least of all with Bach’s cantatas. When talking about voices, he certainly had solid general ideas. Since he did not make a distinction between voices in opera and in church music, his thoughts must have primarily concerned operatic voices. Therefore I can not but come to the conclusion that Mattheson does not qualify as an authority on the issue how Bach’s cantatas ought to be sung.

CharleFrancis wrote (June 21, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: The problem is with self-trained, self-guided non-musicians such as yourself trying to tell professional musicians and musicologists how to do their jobs. >
Musicologists are to performers what art historians are to copyists.Competence in one domain has little bearing on the other.

Thomas Braatz wrote (Jne 21, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal stated:
>> Therefore I can not but come to the conclusion that Mattheson does not qualify as an authority on the issue how Bach’s cantatas ought to be sung.<<
What does he base this on?

>> Since he [Mattheson] did not make a distinction between voices in opera and in church music, his thoughts must have primarily concerned operatic voices.<<
How do we know that ‘voices in opera and in church music’ were that different in Mattheson’s time? Is such a distinction based upon assuming that the current vast difference between operatic voices and those generally heard in HIP was the same back then? The conclusion that Mattheson’s thoughts concerned primarily operatic voices would be similar to thinking that Bach was concerned primarily with keyboard and instrumental music since his early compositions concentrated more upon these types of music than sacred vocal music, implying perhaps that his [Bach’s] expertise in the latter was less than the former just as Mattheson’s important efforts regarding opera performances early in his life would have precluded a good understanding of church music later on.

” …he [Mattheson] had little affinity with the sacred music of the time” is an overstatement that should be corrected to read: “As seen from the perspective of Peter Bloemendaal based upon the ‘authorities’ he has consulted and in harmony with the notion that most of us on the BCML would uphold that “Bach’s sacred music is greater than that of Telemann, Graun, etc.” this would appear to be true. But viewed from the musical developments occurring in the 1st half of the 18th century, Mattheson’s assessments and criticisms (such as those critical of Bach but supportive of Telemann, Graun, etc.) reflect the growing dissatisfaction with the ‘overladen’ contrapuntal style often heard in Bach’s works and Mattheson’s personal preference for the simplicity of the single melodic line (‘galant’ style) with bc accompaniment. Mattheson's ideas would have greater affinity with sacred music of his [Mattheson’s] time than Bach’s sacred music would have had.



>>It is apparent, that Bach and Mattheson showed incompatibility of character and irreconcilable ideas.<<
Ironically, this is important to the performance practices of Bach’s sacred music today. Mattheson strongly supported the ideas of “Klangrede” [“Music as speech”] and the “Affektenlehre” [“the Doctrine of Affects”] which form the basis of the HIP tradition fostered early on by Harnoncourt/Leonhardt in their renditions of Bach’s sacred music. By not making the performances of Bach’s sacred music today a slave to the exaggerated interpretation of that which Mattheson presents as an ideal in music, an ideal which, in many instances made Mattheson’s own compositions ‘Zeitbedingt’ [a characteristic which is the opposite of ‘timeless,’ the latter being a description of Bach’s musical output], we are able to characterize correctly without a current bias the difference between Mattheson’s promotion of the popular trend and Bach’s notion of only that which is truly best (of the old and the new.)

>> Bach’s “Canon à Quatre” was not dedicated to Mattheson but “dédié à Monsieur Houdemann”. Five years later, Hudemann, a legal scholar as well as a musician, composer and poet, wrote Bach a short ode in four stanzas, probably in recognition of the intricate canon Bach dedicated to him in 1727<<
Some interesting facts: Mattheson was the music teacher of Friedrich Ludwig Hudemann, who was known as Bach’s friend. Hudemann was a member of the Melopoetisches Collegium that Mattheson refers to in regard to BWV 1074.

See http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/honorific.html#bwv1074

I am unable to verify Bach’s 1727 visit to Hamburg [this is attributed to Spitta, who believed that Bach was in Hamburg in 1727 after the death of the St. Jacobi organist, Johann Joachim Heitmann,] nor am I able to find a full biography of Friedrich Ludwig Hudemann in either the New Grove’s or the MGG [see below.] But the facts that he was a student of Mattheson and a friend of Bach (his poem in Bach’s defense) provide the necessary, logical link between Mattheson and Bach in this instance.

>>I think, Mattheson did not mind at all that Bach gave up his ambition to become the city’s first organist. Bach’s genius might have outshone Mattheson’s mere competence.<<
"Offenbar hat E. Neumeister, Hauptpastor an St. Jakobi, vielleicht gemeinsam mit Mattheson, den Plan einer Wahl Bachs betrieben. Nach dem erfolglosen Probespiel der übrigen Bewerber wurde Bach Anfang Dezember nochmals aufgefordert, lehnte aber ab, und die (von Mattheson 1728 mitgeteilten) sarkastischen Äußerungen, die Neumeister in seiner Weihnachtspredigt vorbrachte, lassen darauf schließen, daß wohl er selbst, mehr als Bach, es war, der die Berufung Bachs betrieben hatte. Was Bach hätte nach Hamburg locken können, war, daß in der aufblühenden Stadt, in der neben der Oper die Anfänge eines öffentlichen Konzertwesens sich rasch entwickelten, die Möglichkeit bestanden hätte, das Amt an St. Jacobi mit einer Art Städtischen Musikdirektorates zu verknüpfen, wie es 1721 bei der Berufung Telemanns zum »Musikdirektor der fünf Hauptkirchen« und dann wieder 1767 bei der Berufung Philipp Emanuel Bachs geschah. Die unbedeutende Stellung eines Org. an St. Jacobi allein bot weder in künstlerischer, noch in sozialer oder wirtschaftlicher Hinsicht irgend etwas, was den Cöthener Hofkpm. hätte reizen können, und Bach selbst hat offenbar die Sache nicht ernstlich betrieben." [This quote from the MGG explains that both Neumeister and Bach seriously wanted Bach for this position. There were drawbacks, however. One candidate had money and influence. Bach did not want to return for a 2nd audition. The available position at only one of the churches in Hamburg was not enough to attract Bach from an artistic, social nor monetary viewpoint. A year later, Telemann was offered the position that combined all five churches. Hamburg also had a very active opera house that offered opportunities for a composer/musician of high caliber.]

>>There is no mention of Bach attending M’s Collegium, nor is it probable he would have had the time for it in these two or three days.<<
I have read Mattheson’s statement again carefully, and it appears in his convoluted sentence that he might be referring to Houdemann/Hudemann as the Professor of Law (at the University of Leipzig in 1727), a man well-versed in musical matters (‘a recognized connoisseur and good musician’) who had once attended Mattheson’s Collegium and who immediately submitted by mail Bach’s canon which had been dedicated to him [Hudemann – of whom not much else is known: born Sept. 3, 1703 in Friedrichstadt/Schleswig; died Feb. 16, 1770 in Henstedt. Degrees: U of Leipzig, Feb. 24, 1727; on a trip to Holland and France before completing his degree at the U of Kiel, June 12, 1730, Doctor of Law.]

>> John Butt’s assessment in the Oxford Composer Companions that Bach either never read Mattheson’s publications or did not care to provide any information is therefore a justified observation.<<
Bach did not care very much about joining Mizler’s society either:

From Christoph Wolff “The Learned Musician” p. 422:

“In June 1747….he [Mizler] finally managed to persuade his former teacher [Bach] [Mizler had attended Leipzig University from 1731-34]…to join the Society of Musical Science…that Mizler had founded in 1738.”

So it took Mizler almost decade of prodding and pushing to finally get Bach to join the Society. I see a similarity here with Bach’s so-called reluctance in not supplying his own biography to Mattheson.

Also, Mizler published the ‘Musikalische Bibliothek’ from 1736 to 1754. Along with large excerpts fGottsched’s ‘Critische Dichtkunst’ that dealt primarily with opera and cantata, Mizler also included commentary and quotations amounting to more than 200 pages on Mattheson’s “Der vollkommene Capellmeister” alone. Leipzig was notably a book publishing center and had a famous university. Books and publications were rather widely available and possibly circulated/traded among book lovers and collectors.

In Christoph Wolff’s biography of Bach “The Learned Musician” p. 335, he states “We can only conclude that the more appealing library materials [in Bach’s personal library] were removed and distributed before the book inventory was compiled and the theological leftovers were parceled out.”

It is extremely likely that Bach would have read and possibly even possessed books written by Mattheson (contrary to John Butt’s cursory assessment regarding this matter.)

Neil Halliday wrote (June 21, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaa] As someone who has appreciated the power and beauty of Bach's cantatas, masses, motets, and passions for years, without understanding a great deal of the texts (or being very interested in them) until recently, I found Mattheson's view of Bach's vocal compositions very amusing:

<"In order that good old Zachau may have company, and not be quite so alone, let us set beside him an otherwise excellent practicing musician of today (Bach), who for a long time does nothing but repeat:

"I,I,I,I had much grief, I had much grief, in my heart, in my heart. I had much grief, etc., I had much grief, etc., in my heart, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., I had much grief, etc., in my heart, etc.">
And when you consider that frequently, in the multi-voice music, different words are sung in the various vocal lines at the same time, decreasing their comprehensibilty even further, one can see that Bach, in his cantatas, knew that God, for whose glory he created these works, resided in the music more than the words, a concept apparently not grasped by Mattheson, and that in the above example, the emotion engendered by the musical structure has even more impact than that of a structure in which the words are set straightforwardly.

On the matter of texts and words, Bach's (religious) music has a greater universality than even he himself could imagine in pre-Darwinian, Lutheran Germany, as evidenced, amomg other things, by his cheerfully setting words such as "...God protect us from the Pope and the Turks..."; from this I might develop a theoretical basis for presenting what we now call secco recitatives in a more 'musical' form than the conventions would apparently have us do, simply by ignoring said conventions and using the material supplied in the scores. The listener should not be aware of any difference in the form of a secco compared with an accompanied recitative. The spirit
of Bach's music calls for this, unless, ofcouse, one actually finds musical a single, unaccompanied human-voice singing words, where there is no readily definable rhythmn, melody, or musical structure - Apart from a few cases (eg, "...and he (Peter)wept bitterly", in the SMP), I do not.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 21, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: …he [Mattheson] had little affinity with the sacred music of
the time” is an overstatement that should be corrected to read: “As seen from the perspective of Peter Bloemendaal based upon the ‘authorities’ he >
Even though the post seems to come from an @yahoo.com address, it is so replete with AOL punctuation as to be nearly impossible to follow.It is a sad reflexion on the state of the web that, not only diacritics (usually NO PROBLEM for me), but AOL punctuation defaces interesting posts.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 22, 2003):
Mattheson and singing Bach

<<Peter Bloemendaal stated:
>> Therefore I can not but come to the conclusion that Mattheson does not qualify as an authority on the issue how Bach’s cantatas ought to be sung.<<
< Thomas Braatz wrote:
What does he base this on? >

I base it on the facts I found and stated before:

1. Mattheson praised Bach as an excellent organist and as the composer of the “Art of Fugue”, but although he mentioned how honoured he was on receiving the BWV 1074 Canon in August 1727, he completely disregarded the first performance of St. Matthew Passion a few months earlier.

2. He ridiculed Bach’s declamation in BWV 21 – “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis”, one of Bach’s finest compositions.

3. He only gave Bach one sentence in “Das beschützte Orchestre” (1717) and then did not write about him until 1725, when he gave his derisive comment on BWV 21 – “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis”, printed above. From 1717 to 1725 bach Composed SMP, SJP, Magnificat, Easter Oratorio, The Well-tempered Clavier, three plus cantata cycles and the Brandenburg Concertoes.

My FAQ on Mattheson with regard to J.S. Bach:

1. Was M. influential in the Hamburg music scene in his day? Yes.

2. Did Bach belong to this scene? No.

3. Did M. write a lot about music? Yes.

4. Did he write a lot about Bach? No.

5. Did he like Bach’s contrapuntal writing? No.

6. Did he favour the “style galante”? Yes.

7. Did he write about Bach’s oratorio? AFAIK no.

8. Did he write about Bach’s cantatas? Only once and he burnt it down.

9. Did he ever visit Bach in Leipzig? No.

10. Did he ever hear one of Bach’s vocal works being performed? No.

11. How do we know that voices in opera and in church music were that
different in Mattheson’s time? We are talking about singing, not just voices. We don’t know how big the difference was. We do know that Bach did not want his cantatas and oratorios to sound like operas. There were also the church officials who were very sensitive and particular on the subject. See also 18.

12. Is such a distinction based upon assuming that the current vast difference between operatic voices and those generally heard in HIP was the same back then? No. Besides, since Harnoncourt’s pioneer work back in the seventies a lot has changed. The distinction between HIP and non-HIP is not as black and white as some think it is. It is Rilling and his camp who from the start of their cantatas project have created the division. You can not put Harnoncourt, Leusink, Herreweghe, Suzuki and Gardiner in one box and stamp a label on it: HIP. It sounds like RIP and that is exactly what these recordings are not. And then: to which camp does McCreesh belong?

13. Would the conclusion that Mattheson’s thoughts concerned primarily operatic voices be similar to thinking that Bach was concerned primarily with keyboard and instrumental music since his early compositions concentrated more upon these types of music than sacred vocal music? No, this is simply not true. Throughout his life, Mattheson preferred the opera to church music. Bach chose for church music and already in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, he composed his first sacred cantatas (1704-7). Not much later in his composing career he published the “Orgel-Büchlein”, and from 1720 sonatas, keyboard partitas, inventions and the Brandenburg Concertos as well. There is simply no proof AFAIK that Mattheson showed any understanding or affinity towards Bach’s church music.

14. Do the facts that Houdemann was a student of Mattheson and a friend of Bach prove that Mattheson had any influence on Bach? No.

15. Is it extremely likely that Bach would have read and possibly even possessed books written by Mattheson, because they were stolen from his library at his death? No. If anything was worth stealing it would be Bach’s manuscripts.

16. Are Mattheson’s ideas of “Klangrede” [Music as speech] and the “Affektenlehre” [the Doctrine of Affects] the basis of the HIP tradition, slavishly fostered early on by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt in their renditions of Bach’s sacred music? I have my doubts. I am certain that neither Harnoncourt nor Leonhardt were anyone’s slavish disciple. What is more, it is surprising they should be mentioned in one breath because they were involved in the same cantata recording project. And yet, they had an entirely different background, both from a musical and social-cultural point of view.

17. Does Mattheson’s “Affektenlehre” apply toBach’s compositions? No. George Buelow has argued convincingly that we can not deduce from Mattheson’s theory that Bach and his contemporaries adhered to a systematic or universally accepted doctrine of musical expression based on associations between affects and specific musical elements (such as keys and the use of dances or the French overture). Nevertheless, the principle that human emotions can be classified as a fixed set of affects, unchanging and universally understood and shared, was widely recognized in Bach’s time. Especially in arias, both in opera and cantata or oratorio, these specific emotions, such as fear, grief, joy and exultation, are being expressed. But not to that extend that we can speak of “the rage aria” or the grief aria”. Usually there are several affects represented in an aria.

18. Does this imply that operatic arias and arias from secular cantatas, later revised for spiritual purposes were sung and performed in the same way in Bach’s time? No.

Opera is altogether different. It is musical theatre. The venue is not a church but a hall, often at a court, the singers played roles, were made up and wore costumes and were placed in a specific scenery. Anyone who has ever acted in a play or any musical theatrical event knows what such a metamorphosis brings about in the singer/actor. You change into the person you have to play, completely, including mimic, attitude, gestures, motion and expression in speech and singing. Admittedly, opera performances in early 18th century Germany were not nearly as theatrical as the ones we are used to today, but still they were felt to be hugely different from the dramatic events pictured in oratorios. I once had the privilege to be in the audience of a performance of Händel’s “Acis and Galathea” and it struck me how static the action was and how subdued the motions. Yet, the singing was far more dramatic and vocally expressive than is usual in Bach’s church music.

Bach’s secular cantatas were often written for celebrations at the princely courts he had connections with or at the St. Thomas school. They were usually non-dramatic and often written to pay homage to the high-placed person they were dedicated to. However, in some cantatas, especially those for public performance and entertainment like the Peasant Cantata and the Coffee cantata there is action and motion, and the soloists do play a role. I am sure that in Bach’s day the singers had more freedom of expression in the secular cantatas than in the spiritual ones, both because of the subject matter, the place of the performance and in many cases the occasion for which they were written.

As to Bach’s sacred cantatas, neither Bach nor the clericals wanted operatic performances inside the House of God. Bach did not wish the transfer of emotions to rely on the theatrical eloquence of the singers but on the music itself. He was famous for his word-painting through extended melismas, the use of chromatic colouring and instrumental techniques like the application of pizzicatos. Bach wanted his music to have so much power of expression in itself that it was not foremost dependent on the degree of expressiveness of the singer’s rendition. Unfortunately, we will never know how the cantata performances actually sounded, but since there was hardly any or no time for rehearsing, Bach was utterly dependent on the quality of his singers and instrumentalists. He gave his instructions to them orally. There was no need for writing them down. He knew them and they knew his idiom and how he wanted them to perform his works. I know from experience that when you are familiar with Bach and are pressed for time there is no place for long discussions. It is a matter of feeling and making this great music together. The difference between singing sacred and secular cantatas may have been a matter of gradation, but it must have been very obvious for Bach and his contemporaries.

Thanks for the link to this interesting site:
See http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/honorific.html#bwv1074

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (June 22, 2003):
< You can not put Harnoncourt, Leusink, Herreweghe, Suzuki and Gardiner in one box and stamp a label on it: [snIP] >
I would note that the tacky phrasing (as in the chorales) that Thomas Braatz has described as part of the "Harnoncourt Doctrine" seems to be specific to Harnoncourt's recordings, which generally aren't contenders in races to finish off the music as quickly as possible, which Gardiner's executions usually win.

Uri Golomb wrote (June 23, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] I liked most of your points on the Mattheson-Bach relationship. Just some comments on two of them:

< 12. Is such a distinction based upon assuming that the current vast difference between operatic voices and those generally heard in HIP was the same back then? No. Besides, since Harnoncourt's pioneer work back in the seventies a lot has changed. The distinction between HIP and non-HIP is not as black and white as some think it is. It is Rilling and his camp who from the start of their cantatas project have created the division. >
And yet, if you listen to Rilling's more recent recordings, it seems that he has picked up a lot of things from HIP (or some quarters thereof -- see my next comment): most of the (quite significant) radical between his 1977 B minor Mass (BWV 232) and his 1999 recording of the same work can be ascribed to this. (BTW, does anyone here know how one might get hold of Rilling's second recording of the Mass -- made in 1988 for Intercord? The ones I just mentioned are his first and third).

< You can not put Harnoncourt, Leusink, Herreweghe, Suzuki and Gardiner in one box and stamp a label on it: HIP. It sounds like RIP and that is exactly what these recordings are not And then: to which camp does McCreesh belong? >
Quite. It's tempting to simply divide performers by hardware, and use labels like HIP for those who use "period" instruments, and "mainstream" or something like that for thsoe who use "modern" instruments. The truth is more complicated, and there's too much diversity within each "camp" -- as well as mutual influence between them -- to justify crass labels. Thsi doesn't mean that any claassification of performers into groups or schools is useless and without merit; but it has to be done cautiously

< 16. Are Mattheson's ideas of "Klangrede" [Music as speech] and the "Affektenlehre" [the Doctrine of Affects] the basis of the HIP tradition, slavishly fostered early on by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt in their renditions of Bach's sacred music? I have my doubts. I am certain that neither Harnoncourt nor Leonhardt were anyone's slavish disciple. What is more, it is surprising they should be mentioned in one breath because they were involved in the same cantata recording project. And yet, they had an entirely different background, both from a musical and social-cultural point of view. >
Actually, there is a strong link between Harnoncourt and Leonhardt -- but most of it dates to before the start of their "joint" cantata cycle ("parallel" might be a better way to describe it: running side-by-side, but not encountering each other). The Harnoncourts (Nikolaus and Alice) and Leonhardts (Gustav and Marie) played together on several occasions in the 1950’s and 1960’s; Leonhardt was one of the continuo players in the Harnoncourt/Gillesberger SJP in 1965. But from the 70s onwards, it seems that they did not collaborate nearly as often. And you can tell from their recordings: there are already some differences in style between the two at the beginning of the cantata cycle, but the differences become more and more marked as that cycle progressed.As for rhetoric -- I have my own analysis of the role this concept played in the aesthetics and style of several prominent Bach musicians, based only partly on their statements (what an artist says is not alwyas a guide to what they do -- you have to check it on a case-by-case basis). I might send a more detailed article about that at a later stage; for the moment, I think it's fair to say that (a) both Harnoncourt and Leonhardtwere aiming at a rhetorical style of Bach performance, and (b) they did not mean exactly the same thing by "rhetorical"...

I also wanted to comment on some of the sacred/secular issues raised here, but I"ll save that for a later posting.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 23, 2003):
Peter Bloemendaal stated: >> The difference between singing sacred and secular cantatas may have been a matter of gradation, but it must have been very obvious for Bach and his contemporaries.<<
It is possible that Bach performed both sacred and secular cantatas with the same verve and commitment as he did his sacred cantatas. The secular to sacred parodies give ample evidence of this. It is difficult to imagine that the performance styles would have been very different.

>> Bach was utterly dependent on the quality of his singers and instrumentalists. He gave his instructions to them orally. There was no need for writing them down.<<
This statement can only come from someone who has not studied the NBA scores carefully. In almost all of the original sets of parts that have come down to us, Bach continued to mark the correct articulation and make revisions/corrections after the parts had been copied. In his original scores, there is evidence that he went out of his way to circumvent soloists and instrumentalists from taking too many liberties with the music as he intended it to be heard.

>>Unfortunately, we will never know how the cantata performances actually sounded.<<
The NBA scores are a necessary starting point. To throw your hands up into the air and say, “We’ll never know what these cantatas sounded like,” leads to the excessive exaggerations of Bach’s music that have been recorded during the last quarter century.

>>As to Bach’s sacred cantatas, neither Bach nor the clericals wanted operatic performances inside the House of God. Bach did not wish the transfer of emotions to rely on the theatrical eloquence of the singers but on the music itself.<<
The loaded word here is ‘theatrical’ when referring to singers who sang in opera performances and then also sang a solo aria or recitative in a church. ‘Theatrical,’ as you seem to be using the term, could easily imply a disingenuous, contrived manner of expressing the text, a manner that reveals affectations that cause the listener to sense an artificial relationship of the singer with the text being sung. Good examples from both the non-HIP and HIP traditions of singing Bach are Huttenlocher vs. Ramselaar. For differing reasons, both singers, nevertheless, ‘rely on theatrical eloquence’ and are unable, most of the time, to sing genuinely with feeling from the heart that is thoroughly convincing.

On the opposite end of the scale, by removing the expression of feeling entirely through singing in a purely instrumental style (Holton and others come to mind), we have a complete reliance upon the music alone to supply the ‘transfer of emotions.’ This might be fine for purely instrumental compositions, but the truly human, expressive element of the singer has been short-changed or dampened by a current performance style theory that advocates this type of peculiar, almost inhuman vocal sound. Add to this a lax pronunciation/enunciation of the German text and you will get a very sterile rendition of Bach’s sacred music.

>>However, in some cantatas, especially those for public performance and entertainment like the Peasant Cantata and the Coffee cantata there is action and motion, and the soloists do play a role.<<
As interesting as these cantatas are in that they demonstrate another side of Bach, one in which he can break with the serious tradition of church music, I do not consider these particular cantatas worthy of comparison with Bach’s sacred music in this regard.

>>I once had the privilege to be in the audience of a performance of Händel’s “Acis and Galathea” and it struck me how static the action was and how subdued the motions. Yet, the singing was far more dramatic and vocally expressive than is usual in Bach’s church music.<<
On what basis do you know that the singing in Bach’s church music is less dramatic and less vocally expressive than the performance of Händel which you heard? Are you basing this comment on the Leusink series and others like it?

>>Anyone who has ever acted in a play or any musical theatrical event knows what such a metamorphosis brings about in the singer/actor. You change into the person you have to play, completely, including mimic, attitude, gestures, motion and expression in speech and singing.<<
It is possible to sing a Bach aria or recitative more movingly without the ‘theatrical’ environment and concomitant techniques of the stage. Perhaps such a deeply moving performance of an aria is all the more effective just because all the other stage-craft distractions have been removed and the emotional expression of the soloist is centered upon only a few crucial ideas stated in the text or a general attitude or feeling which permeates the entire mvt.

>>Does this imply that operatic arias and arias from secular cantatas, later revised for spiritual purposes were sung and performed in the same way in Bach’s time?<<
Indications from a comparison of Bach’s transformation from secular to sacred are that only that which was necessary, based upon the changed text, was altered, but the performances remained essentially the same and, very likely, were sung and played by the musicians in a similar fashion.

>>Does Mattheson’s “Affektenlehre” apply to Bach’s compositions? No.<<
I agree that this “Affektenlehre” [the doctrine concerning the ‘Affects’ or ‘Affections’ which Mattheson strongly defended] has been overly exaggerated in the HIP mvt. of the past quarter century.

>> Do the facts that Houdemann was a student of Mattheson and a friend of Bach prove that Mattheson had any influence on Bach?<<
It establishes the connection that existed between Bach and Mattheson with Hudemann as the ‘go-between.’ The question of ‘influence’ is an entirely different matter. Bach may have considered ideas that Mattheson had to offer, but Bach would certainly have decided on his own as to what he thought was best in music and he would decide for himself whether the theatrical style should play as important a role in church music as Mattheson suggested that it should have.

>>…he [Mattheson] completely disregarded the first performance of St. Matthew Passion a few months earlier.<<
This is a ridiculous comment as it demonstrates a lack of understanding concerning the control over the actual manuscripts and sets of parts which Bach rarely allowed other cantors to use. This music was known only to the few fortunate ears that happened to be present when the music was performed. Even when considering both the SMP and SJP, it becomes apparent that the performances of these works in Leipzig were limited (the “Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach” article on ‘Passions’ lists the performances.) As far as I can determine, only the Picander text of the SMP exists in printed form, but nothing tells us anything about Bach's performances of these works. There are no newspaper reports or criticisms of any of these performances available from the Leipzig newspapers and journals. How was Mattheson to know about this music, much less comment on it, if he could not read about it, see the score, or, better yet, hear a performance himself? [An interesting fact: Mattheson, in the last 30 to 40 years of his life was deaf! 1728 – increasing deafness, had to give up his musical performance positions; 1735 onward – completely deaf – he died in 1764.]

Just how Mattheson learned about, heard, or saw a score of BWV 21 is not known, but it is not at all surprising that he was not acquainted with all the important music that Bach had composed from 1717 – 1725 (Easter Oratorio? – check out the 1st performance in 1735.]

Gerard Luttikhuisen wrote (June 23, 2003):
Secular and church cantatas

< Peter Bloemendaal wrote: As to Bach's sacred cantatas, neither Bach nor the clericals wanted operatic performances inside the House of God. Bach did not wish the transfer of emotions to rely on the theatrical eloqof the singers but on the music itself. He was famous for his word-painting through extended melismas, the use of chromatic colouring and instrumental techniques like the application of pizzicatos. Bach wanted his music to have so much power of expression in itself that it was not foremost dependent on the degree of expressiveness of the singer's rendition. Unfortunately, we will never know how the cantata performances actually sounded, but since there was hardly any or no time for rehearsing, Bach was utterly dependent on the quality of his singers and instrumentalists. He gave his instructions to them orally. There was no need for writing them down. He knew them and they knew his idiom and how he wanted them to perform his works. I know from experience that when you are familiar with Bach and are pressed for time there is no place for long discussions. It is a matter of feeling and making this great music together. The difference between singing sacred and secular cantatas may have been a matter of gradation, but it must have been very obvious for Bach and his contemporaries. >
I like the comments made by Peter Bloemendaal on Matheson. In spite of his musicological expertise, Matheson belongs to the vast majority of people who listen(ed) to Bach's music without understanding it. Matheson may not have heard or seen much of Bach's compositions but at least he must have heard BWV 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, which according to all kinds of standards is a brilliant piece of music, even in a poor performance. From Christoph Wolff's biography I learned that Matheson was particularly disgruntled by the repeated 'Ich' ('I') in the opening of the first chorus.

A question about the relationship between secular and church cantatas. It is often stated (also Peter Bloemendaal makes this comment) that the difference is gradual. To an extent this is true. Bach wrote all his music ad maiorem Dei gloriam. My question relates to Bach's so-called recycling of his own compositions. Did Bach ever re-use a piece of music from an earlier church (!) cantata for another church cantata? Indeed he used themes from his 'secular' cantatas for his church cantatas as well as themes from his church cantatas for other religious works (e.g. Hohe Messe and other masses). But can anybody point to a case of recycling WITHIN the group of cantatas which we now label church cantatas? (I propose that we exclude reworkings of one and the same cantata)

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Secular Cantatas – General Discussions

Johan van Veen wrote (June 23, 2003):
< Peter Bloemendaal wrote:
17. Does Mattheson’s “Affektenlehre” apply to Bach’s compositions? No.George Buelow has argued convincingly that we can not deduce from Mattheson ’s theory that Bach and his contemporaries adhered to a systematic or universally accepted doctrine of musical >expression based on associations between affects and specific musical elements (such as keys and the use of dances or the French overture). Nevertheless, the principle that >human emotions can be classified as a fixed set of affects, unchanging and universally understood and shared, was widely recognized in Bach’s time. Especially in arias, both in opera and cantata or oratorio, these specific emotions, such as fear, grief, joy and exultation, are being expressed. But not to that extend that we can speak of “the rage aria” or the grief aria”. Usually there are several affects represented in an aria. >
I am not sure you are right here. I don't know whether Bach new Mattheson's writings about the 'Affektenlehre', but I believe - as you acknowledge by saying that "the principle ... of affects ... was widely recognized in Bach's time" - that he didn't prescribe or invented or developed his own theory on 'Affekts', but merely described and perhaps classified the principles which were generally held in his time. And your remark that "several affects" (are) represented in an aria doesn't contradict - as far as I know - with Mattheson's writings. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if Mattheson would prefer the general dominance of one single Affekt in a piece of music. I believe this belongs to the ideal of the 'new', 'simpler' musical style than Bach's.

< 18. Does this imply that operatic arias and arias from secular cantatas, later revised for spiritual purposes were sung and performed in the same way in Bach’s time? No. Opera is altogether different. It is musical theatre. The venue is not a church but a hall, often at a court, the singers played roles, were made up and wore costumes and were placed in a specific scenery. Anyone who has ever acted in a play or any musical theatrical event knows what such a metamorphosis brings about in the singer/actor. You change into the person you have to play, completely, including mimic, attitude, gestures, motion and expression in speech and singing. Admittedly, opera performances in early 18th century Germany were not nearly as theatrical as the ones we are used to today, >
I wonder what that view is based upon. I don't believe for a minute that operatic performances were less 'theatrical' than today's performances. This is a anachronistic view. 'Theatricality' is in the eyes or ears ogf the beholder. There is no objective standard as to what 'theatrical' or 'dramatic' is. It depends on what someone is used to. If you use 19th century Italian opera (Verdi, Puccini) as standard, yes, German opera of the 18th century is very dull and undramatic. But 'theatrical' means different things in different ages and cultures. Opera wouldn't have become popular in Germany - or anywhere - if it would have been fundamentally undramatic.

< As to Bach’s sacred cantatas, neither Bach nor the clericals wanted operatic performances inside the House of God. Bach did not wish the transfer of emotions to rely on the >theatrical eloquence of the singers but on the music itself. >
But emotions in the music of the baroque - whether secular or sacred - always comes from the music. It isn't something forced upon the music by the singer. The singer merely reveals the amount and character of the 'drama' in the music by carefully performing it.

< He was famous for his word-painting through extended melismas, the use of chromatic colouring and instrumental techniques like the application of pizzicatos. Bach wanted his music to have so much power of expression in itself that it was not foremost dependent on the degree of expressiveness of the singer’s rendition. >
Like I wrote before: the music itself contains the expressiveness. The singer only has to demonstrate it by singing what the composer has written down the way the composer would have wanted him to sing.

< The difference between singing sacred and secular cantatas may have been a matter of gradation, but it must have been very obvious for Bach and his contemporaries. >
I don't believe that the performances of a sacred or a secular piece by Bach are really different. Sure, all performances have their own characteristics, on the basis of the content of the music. But I don't think that the difference between performing a sacred and a secular piece is bigger than the difference between performing a piece for Christmas and a piece for the Passiontide.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (June 23, 2003):
Bach and Mattheson

Thomas Braatz wrote:
It is possible that Bach performed both sacred and secular cantatas with the same verve and commitment as he did his sacred cantatas. The secular to sacred parodies give ample evidence of this. It is difficult to imagine that the performance styles would have been very different.
<<As said earlier, the difference between them was probably a matter of gradation, but clearly noticeable, Although I would not be surprised if none of the Leipzig clergy knew that the final chorus of the Hunting Cantata “Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd” (BWV 208), written for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels, formed the origin of the opening chorus of BWV 149 - “Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg” and ofsome movements of BWV 68 – “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt”, I am sure Bach would not take the risk that, in case anyone might find out, he could be told off for performing secular music in church. He reworked the text and adapted the melody and instrumentation as well. So why would not he adapt the presentation, especially where the parody concerned arias? For the Hunting Cantata, Bach used mythological names for the solo voices, which at least guaranteed some slight dramatic actions. The use of props suggests that it was performed in a semi-staged manner. The arias Bach composed in 1713 were for Diana, soprano – the Greek-Roman goddess of hunting -, Endymion, tenor - the god who stood for eternal youth -, Pan, - the god of woods and fields-, and Pales - the goddess of cattle and herdsmen. They were all sung in honour of the Duke, whose greatest passion was hunting. Bach changed the bass aria “Ein Fürst ist seines Landes Pan” into “Du bist geboren mir zugute” and the soprana aria “Weil die wollenreichen Herden” into “Mein gläubiges Herze”, all in praise of Christ on Whitmonday 1725. Dürr, among others, describes how Bach contrived these adaptations and how they changed a simple pastoral song into a lively hymn of sacred devotion. I am sure this change must have reflected on the style of singing.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
This statement can only come from someone who has not studied the NBA scores carefully. In almost all of the original sets of parts that have come down to us, Bach continued to mark the correct articulation and make revisions/corrections after the parts had been copied. In his original scores, there is evidence that he went out of his way to circumvent soloists and instrumentalists from taking too many liberties with the music as he intended it to be heard.
<<Several scholars observed that often dynamic marks are missing or were added or omitted (by accident or at Bach’s instigation?) in copies. Also they emphasized that usually there was hardly any time or no time at all for rehearsing, let alone consulting the NBA.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
The loaded word here is “theatrical” when referring to singers who sang in opera performances and then also sang a solo aria or recitative in a church. “Theatrical”, as you seem to be using the term, could easily imply a disingenuous, contrived manner of expressing the text, a manner that reveals affectations that cause the listener to sense an artificial relationship of the singer with the text being sung. Good examples from both the non-HIP and HIP traditions of singing Bach are Hüttenlocher vs. Ramselaar. For differing reasons, both singers, nevertheless, rely on theatrical eloquence and are unable, most of the time, to sing genuinely with feeling from the heart that is thoroughly convincing.
<<I do not consider Ramselaar “theatrical” or “contrived”. His singing is utterly convincing to me. What I mean by theatrical is more related to overacting, like described in Ivan Lalis’s message nr. 5388.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
On the opposite end of the scale, by removing the expression of feeling entirely through singing in a purely instrumental style (Holton and others come to mind), we have a complete reliance upon the music alone to supply the “transfer of emotions”. This might be fine for purely instrumental compositions, but the truly human, expressive element of the singer has been short-changed or dampened by a current performance style theory that advocates this type of peculiar, almost inhuman vocal sound. Add to this a lax pronunciation/enunciation of the German text and you will get a very sterile rendition of Bach’s sacred music.
<<Holton’s singing comes closer to Bach’s intentions than you would like us to believe. Your dislike of Holton is as personal as my love for her voice.

Thomas Braatz wrote about Mattheson’s completely disregarding the first performance of St. Matthew Passion:
This is a ridiculous comment as it demonstrates a lack of understanding concerning the control over the actual manuscripts and sets of parts which Bach rarely allowed other cantors to use. This music was known only to the few fortunate ears that happened to be present when the music was performed. Even when considering both the SMP and SJP, it becomes apparent that the performances of these works in Leipzig were limited. As far as I can determine, only the Picander text of the SMP exists in printed form, but nothing tells us anything about Bach's performances of these works. There are no newspaper reports or criticisms of any of these performances available from the Leipzig newspapers and journals. How was Mattheson to know about this music, much less comment on it, if he could not read about it, see the score, or, better yet, hear a performance himself?

[An interesting fact: Mattheson, in the last 30 to 40 years of his life was deaf! 1728 “increasing deafness, had to give up his musical performance positions”; 1735 onward “completely deaf”. He died in 1764.]
<< It is even more ridiculous to assume that a man like Mattheson, whose authority as a music expert depended on his awareness of what was going on in the musical world of his day, would not know about Bach’s activities in Leipzig, regardless of the fact that he did not dispose of Bach’s manuscripts. Hamburg is about 300 kilometres (125 miles) from Leipzig and, depending on the means of transport, the journey would take 2 or 3 days. Mattheson was sitting like a spider in his web. He knew how to pull strings. It would have been easy for a man of his influence to lay his hands on some copies and as a matter of fact I believe he did so, too. Don’t tell me that Mattheson, 4 months after the first performance of SMP in Leipzig, had not had a report from someone being among the 1200 lucky ones in the Thomaskirche at that historic event. Mattheson was not an idiot, nor was he a recluse. He just happened to be not interested! He was not only physically deaf, he was spiritually deaf to the greatest music ever conceived.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (June 24, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: The singer merely reveals the amount and character of the 'drama' in the music by carefully performing it. <
How is this view consistent with the one you expressed earlier, that there is no objective standard of drama? As I can't imagine it could be, it seems to me that you were right the first time.

< I don't believe that the performances of a sacred or a secular piece by Bach are really different. Sure, all performances have their own characteristics, on the basis of the content of the music. But I don't think that the difference between performing a sacred and a secular piece is bigger than the difference between performing a piece for Christmas and a piece for the Passiontide. >
Also, I consider fatuous the attempted stylistic separation, advocated by some critics, of Bach's cantatas from oratorios, motets, and even concertos.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 24, 2003):
< Alex Riedlmayer wrote: How is this view consistent with the one you expressed earlier, that there is no objective standard of drama? As I can't imagine it could be, it seems to me that you were right the first time. >
There is no inconsistency at all.

The singer must perform the music as it presents itself, taking into account all we know about performing habits of the composer and his time. If the music contains any 'drama' such a performance will bring it out. Whether this 'drama' will be experienced or recognized as such to a large extent depends on the audience.

It is possible, in my view, that a singer reveals the drama in the music, but that modern audiences don't recognize the dramatic character. I have always held the view that in order to deliver and communicate what the composer has to say the interpreter must do his homework by taking into account all knowledge about the performance practice in the composer's time. At the same time the audiences have to do their homework as well by adapting their expectations to what the composer is willing and able to deliver. If one expects 'Verdian' theatricality from Bach's cantatas one is set to get disappointed and utterbored.

In short: Bach's music shouldn't be adapted to modern audience's tastes, but modern audiences have to adapt their taste to 18th century esthetic standards.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (June 24, 2003):
< Peter Bloemendaal wrote: Although I would not be surprised if none of the Leipzig clergy knew that the final chorus of the Hunting Cantata "Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd" (BWV 208), written for the birthday of Duke Christian of Saxe Weissenfels, formed the origin of the opening chorus of BWV 149 - "Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg" and of some movements of BWV 68 - "Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt", I am sure Bach would not take the risk that, in case anyone might find out, he could be told off for performing secular music in church. >
What reception in Leipzig would you believe the multiple presentations there of "Schwingt freudig euch empor", in both sacred and secular versions, to have received?

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (June 25, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: The singer must perform the music as it presents itself, >
No, this is silly. The music isn't exhibited by "itself", but by the performer.

< taking into account all we know about performing habits of the composer and his time. If the music contains any 'drama' such a performance will bring it out. >
But some performances, not following that path, have produced even greater drama.

< At the same time the audiences have to do their homework as well by adapting their expectations to what the composer is willing and able to deliver. >
How is this expectation in any way reasonable?

< If one expects 'Verdian' theatricality from Bach's cantatas one is set to get disappointed and utterly bored. >
And if they expect yet another kind of theatricality?

Johan van Veen wrote (June 25, 2003):
< Alex Riedlmayer wrote: No, this is silly. The music isn't exhibited by "itself", but by the performer. >
The music itself contains all kinds of clues as to how it is meant to be performed. And the performer has to understand the music he performs within the context of the composer and his time. If he does, he will be able to deliver what the music contains, and not cross any borders at the same time.

<< taking into account all we know about performing habits of the composer and his time. If the music contains any 'drama' such a performance will bring it out. >>
< But some performances, not following that path, have produced even greater drama. >
That is what I meant by 'crossing the borders'. Maybe some people will like Monteverdi more if he is performed as if he was the father of Verdi - as some critic characterised the Monteverdi recordings by Raymond Leppard - but that doesn't it make right. Maybe I'll start to like Mahler if played on baroque instruments, but that doesn't make it right. A performance can deliver 'right' drama and 'wrong' - meaning 'anachronictic' - drama.

<< At the same time the audiences have to do their homework as well by adapting their expectations to what the composer is willing and able to deliver. >>
< How is this expectation in any way reasonable? >
If a performer can get some understanding of the esthetics of the time the music he performs has been composed, why can't the audience get any understanding of the time and ideas of the music they are going to listen to? Why can't you ask the audience to prepare for what they are going to hear? If I are going to listen to a CD, I always start reading the booklet. For me that is the most natural thing in the world.

<< If one expects 'Verdian' theatricality from Bach's cantatas one is set to get disappointed and utterly bored. >>
< And if they expect yet another kind of theatricality? >
That is their problem. Anyone who expects things from a piece of music the composer wasn't able or willing to deliver is going to be disappointed. But that is not the fault of the composer or the performer, but only that of the listener.


Flawed Voices?

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2003):
In order to double-check my vociferously criticized observations regarding ‘demi-voix,’ I have consulted the MGG, the New Grove, and a “Sängerlexikon” for information that might prove my contention to be wrong. In course of my searching and reading, I have come up with the following observations [what I will say will be in more general terms without citing the specific reference books or naming the authors of the articles, sometimes not listed]:

1. The term ‘voce piena’ describes a singing with ‘full’ voice and ‘full voice.’ This is what was understood in the 18th century as ‘forte’ singing, which was the ‘default’ mode of singing generally. This description of ‘full voice’ can be documented as far back as the Renaissance and was the preferred mode of singing and, likewise, the ideal type of voice that was sought out for the best performances. A combination of wide range and volume in a voice was an important factor for singers in the Baroque and subsequent periods. “A round, beautifully full voice with the ability to present the music artistically” is also a typical description recorded by critics/reporters of these earlier periods. Check out Giovanni Luca Conforti, Gregorio Babbi, Francesco Benucci, Julie Kaufmann, Emmy Destinn,

2. The term ‘mezzavoce’ is closely equivalent to ‘sotto voce’ which is a designation normally used to tell the singer (and instruments as well) to ‘cut back’ in volume and intensity. ‘Demi-voix’ belongs to this category of singing. Normally this is used only for special effects in certain passages, but even as far back as the Baroque, it was fairly customary for opera singers to sing an entire opera ‘sotto voce’ much to the dismay of audiences who paid less for tickets to a main or ‘dress’ rehearsal where such singing occurred only to have these same audiences complain afterwards that the singers were inaudible. This type of singing still takes place at opera rehearsals today. It is called “Markieren” or ‘marking.’ Even for some of the best, strongest voices, it is extremely difficult to create any emotional intensity when singing in this manner.

3. A ‘demi voix,’ as applied to a specific type of voice implies that such a voice can generally only produce ‘sotto-voce’ sounds (compared to ‘full’ voices), sounds with limited volume and intensity, and sounds which become almost inaudible in the low range of such voices. These voices, by their very nature, have a limited range not suitable for singing Bach arias which frequently make use of a full range, nor would they be able to properly project the musical message of the text.

4. For unknown reasons, which are open to speculation, the singer biographies contained in the musical encyclopedias, make little or no attempt to describe the musical qualities of a voice the closer that such a voice approaches the present time. Voices in the 18th and 19th centuries are even sometimes described as ‘small,’ ‘light’ or ‘soft’ with their only redeeming quality by compensation being the humorous or otherwise unusual presentation of a stage part (the acting being more important than singing which becomes more like speaking.) Such a voice is sometimes described as a ‘stage voice.’

5. Even rarer are insightful observations that a voice, at a certain point in life, is ‘past its prime’ or ‘over the hill.’ These are realities that do exist, but no one, not even the artist, wishes to admit or point out. Hence, many continue to sing oblivious to what is quite apparent to many listeners. On the other hand, some voices do ‘improve’ or ‘change’ over time: from ‘light’ to ‘full’ or from one type of ‘higher-range’ role to a later ‘deeper’ voice role.

6. Most of the singer biographies are very long ‘laundry’ lists of everything that these artists have sung and/or recorded. Many of these biographies give nothing more than the voice category: soprano, contralto, tenor, bass-baritone, etc. At most, it might be pointed out that a performance was ‘successful.’ Reading between the lines of such reports, it becomes evident that voices with little or no opera experience tend to be ‘smaller’ and seem specialize in the non-operatic genre. [Check out Elly Ameling.] One example of this type is Emma Kirkby, whose voice is described as agile, facile, with little vibrato. This is a voice very specialized as a ‘period voice.’ It is easy for me to imagine that this voice will not be considered a ‘full voice.’ When she sings the soprano arias in the SMP under Andrew Parrott, her husband, who represents the ‘minimalist-in-extremis’ approach to performing Bach’s sacred works, this is a ‘marriage made in heaven’ with a small, technically proficient voice supported by the smallest instrumental ensemble that the score allows. Such a voice as Kirkby’s sets the example (particularly in recordings) and gives hope for other singers with less fully developed voices to attempt to do the same thing without worrying about developing a ‘full-range’ voice which might be able to produce more genuine expressiveness by relying upon warmth, fullness, and depth in the lower range of the voice. Instead the listener will hear more and more ‘demi voix’ who will even reduce the already existing ‘smallness’ of their voices by singing ‘sotto voce’ most of the time. The HIP conductors even encourage (consciously or unconsciously) this type of singing by making the instruments play faster and more lightly. The interpretative insertion of many extra pauses (non-legato style of playing) by HIP conductors undermines seriously the singers’ ability to develop a ‘rounder,’ ‘fuller’ tone that more easily issues from a cantabile style of singing. The ‘demi voix’ singers begin to emulate the light and fast HIP instrumental style of playing and thus the detrimental cycle toward ‘lite’ (background-type music) begins and the full expressive capabilities inherent in Bach’s music are diminished.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 27, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Full voice doesn't have to mean Wagnerian.

Kirkby sings full voice, not half-voice. Her sound is very "white" to be sure, but still it's full voice. And her carrying power is actually quite considerable. I've heard her project the high Cs in Haydn's Creation over the orchestra quite handily.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 27, 2003):
Bob Sherman commented: >>Full voice doesn't have to mean Wagnerian.<<
Very true! And 'demi-voix' does not have to mean non-operatic, although the chances are vastly improved that they will be (there are more 'demi-voix' in the latter category) if the singer does not sing opera or has not sung in an operatic setting.

>>Kirkby sings full voice, not half-voice. Her sound is very "white" to be sure, but still it's full voice. And her carrying power is actually quite considerable. I've heard her project the high Cs in Haydn's Creation over the orchestra quite handily.<<
The key defining aspect of 'demi-voix' is that their low range is weak. They are occasionally capable of singing high passages that are short in full voice, but they tend soon to lose their 'sudden' intensity and volume on some key high notes over the long stretch of an aria. The sotto-voce may be abandoned for such short passages only to resume in the middle and lower range of the voice.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 27, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: The key defining aspect of 'demi-voix' is that their low range is weak. >
As has been pointed out many times, the biggest problem with the term 'demi-voix' (and 'half-voice') is that it is offensive. No matter how much pseudo-historical justification anyone tries to cobble together for it (which is a dead-end pursuit, but that's moot anyway), it's still offensive NOW.

Here is a simple demonstration that it is offensive.

Walk up to a singer and say to him or her: "Hello, demi-voix. You are a demi-voix. Do you like being called a demi-voix? Speak up, I didn't hear you because you are a flawed person: you have only half a voice. You have a flawed voice. Not even a whole voice, but only a half voice. Demi-voix half voice, demi-voix half voice! You are inadequate. You are flawed."

It's cruel. It's heartless. It says the person is considered only half a person because of the (supposed) weakness of the singing voice, in the estimation of an arrogant critic.

'Demi-voix' is in the same class of terminology as 'half-wit' and 'half-breed', i.e. offensive terms that say somebody is incomplete (in the opinion of the person using the term). Because the term is offensive, I suggest it should not be used.

Brad Lehman
(Maybe this point did not come across the other ten times I've mentioned it, because I have only a half-voice?)


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Last update: ýAugust 6, 2004 ý14:36:52