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Freedom of Expression

Limitations or freedoms

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 2, 2002):
Charles Francis wrote: (...)
< So while Gould appears to have had complete control over the nuances of an interpretation and the ability to reproduce a particular interpretation on demand, he appears to have been somewhat overwhelmed on occasion by the musical possibilities available. By the way, this is antithetical to HIP, where performance doctrines are applied to limit the interpretation-space to "historically informed" performances. >
Them thar's fightin' words, mister. Thanks fer like spittin' on my boots an' totally makin' fun of a field I've devoted my life to. Ten paces. Draw!

The point of "historically informed" performance ("HIP") is the OPPOSITE of being limiting or restricting. At its best it frees the performer!

The point of learning things from that direction (historal context looking forward, rather than present context looking backward) is to free the performer from restrictive cultural habits. It frees the performer to "think outside the box" of things he (she) thought he already knew (for, example, how to read a simple-looking dotted rhythm). Study of the sources and historical milieu reveals things that might not be obvious from the musical notation, as viewed by modern eyes. It teaches the performer how to understand where the music is coming from as necessary background to figuring out where it's going.

It's a way of training the imagination so the music can emerge as freshly as possible. As I wrote here a few days ago, all the historical training is background for the performer. Background only, not the end. It is still the performer's musicality that makes or breaks a musical performance. The "historically informed" background merely gives the performer many more tools that can be called into service in making a convincing performance: more flexibility, rather than less. The "performance doctrines" (as you call them) give us additional clues where to start building a communicative performance.

It makes me sad and frustrated when people see HIP instead as a restrictive, even "anal-retentive" quest for some past truth that can be limited and bound into a box, like some dusty relic in a museum. Speaking as a practitioner of HIP, what have we done wrong to cause such a gross misconception of our work?

I concede that some "HIP" performers are simply dull musicians, unable to bring the music to life whether they're using old techniques or new. That mediocrity might give the field a bad name, but that's true in any field.

Pick some other field where a craft is deeply informed by research, practice, thorough training, and experience: say, medical science. A doctor who never studies the field research is going to be a mediocre doctor, because he won't have the background for recognizing symptoms in context, won't know any range of possibilities, and therefore he'll make bad diagnoses (even if he's a wonderfully sensitive and sympathetic individual). A doctor who spends all her time reading and never sees patients is also going to be a mediocre doctor, having no practical experience dealing with real people and cases. The best doctor is one who listens carefully to the case at hand, and who has the thorough background and experience to know where this case fits, how it has been treated before, what worked and what didn't work before...and who has the creative imagination and sensitivity to know what will probably work best in treating THIS particular case, the one that matters. A great doctor gives every patient the best care possible, adapting herself to serve individual cases as every one is different: not providing generic solutions, but specific solutions according to the resources available.

A patient who is suffering from some unknown cause doesn't give a flying rip about the past, she just wants a diagnosis and treatment that improve her particular situation, now, and wants to feel that she's being cared for individually as a person. It's the doctor's professional craft to provide such service, with a combination of background resources, sensitivity, and imagination. That's an art on top of all the science.

It's the same in musical performance, because music is similarly a learned craft, a combination of science and art. The best performer is one who can make himself into the character that each individual piece requires: crafting a performance that convincingly serves the needs of now. The past is gone. We can learn a tremendous amount from it, including some vitally important things, but we can't go back. All the scientific background of HIP isn't worth a flying rip if there is no artistic spark to make this particular performance a convincing and meaningful occasion. Every time. Musicality is an art of being specific: knowing what to bring to every moment.

If the public accepts dull mediocrity as a standard, going gaga over something that is generic or badly-crafted (or both), that says more bad things about the public's taste than about the pursuit of the craft itself.

When HIP (or any other musical performance style, whether it's rock or Broadway or 13th century conductus or a jazz improvisation) is done badly, the music sounds generic. When it is done well, the music while it's happening sounds as if it could go no other way: an engagingly fresh and rich experience, growing organically "before our very ears" into a perfect and satisfying structure. The goal of HIP at its best is to bring the broadest possible generic knowledge and apply it to the specific cases of each composition and each performance. Transcend the generic.

Back to Glenn Gould: he was convincing because of his musicality, his ability to give imaginative and highly-specific profiles to the music. He openly chose a modern (or postmodern) analytical approach to the music (basically seeing it through Schoenberg's eyes, much of the time), rather than choosing HIP. Fine. He was convincing because of the strength of his own character along with his technical skills. He brought an interesting, engaging approach to the music. That's to be expected of every performer, HIP or not. Gould could be sublime, and he could be infuriating, sometimes within the same performance...but he was almost always deeply committed to making the music real. That's what matters.

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, sir. HIP, when it's done by strong musicians, is much more freeing than restrictive. If you hear a bad performance somewhere, fine, but don't blame it on the field itself. If "performance doctrines are applied to limit the interpretation-space to 'historically informed' performances," it just means the particular musicians doing that are mediocre or uninspired: they're letting themselves be limited.

To hear a strong musician embracing HIP at its best, listen to Wilbert Hazelzet's solo flute CD of Bach, Glossa 920804. He plays BWV 1007, 1008, 1009, and 1013. His playing suggests that no limits of any kind exist, and that there's no way the music could go any better than this (even though 1007-1009 are supposed to be on cello!). This CD is great not because it's HIP but because the performer's musicianship is overwhelmingly focused in service of the music. And his phrasing is sometimes *so* specific that the public probably won't like it, it'll make them uncomfortable: the public is too fond of generic mediocrity.... To quote Vonnegut, "So it goes."

Pete Blue wrote (March 3, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] I totally agree with Brad Lehman's response to "Charles". I just want to add that the definiution of HIP has changed greatly over the last three decades and continues to evolve. Stravaganza's Brandenburgs, for example, seem to me to resemble Casals's no less closely than Harnoncourt/Leonhardt's.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 3, 2002):
Brad, you state:
< Speaking as a practitioner of HIP, what have we done wrong to cause such a gross misconception of our work?
I concede that *some* "HIP" performers are simply dull musicians, unable to bring the music to life whether they're using old techniques or new. That mediocrity migive the field a bad name, but that's true in any field. >
The misconception regarding HIP comes as a result of not just some HIP performers being mediocre, but the greater portion of the pioneering Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata series on Teldec falling into this category. Such an extensive endeavor lasting almost 20 years from its inception to its completion is bound to have an effect on everything that follows it, particularly because it was the first of its kind. Unfortunately, much of that which was presented to the listening public is of inferior quality. The reasons for this failure are numerous and have been discussed on the BCML. The ‘gross misconception’ is not on the part of those who hear the restrictive influence in the recordings, but rather with the perpetrators of a ‘gross misconception’ which is called HIP: Harnoncourt/Leonhardt. The HIP cantata experiments that Harnoncourt undertook are based on sloppy musicological research, an inability to truly understand what is musical in singing and playing, a notion that old instruments should be played crudely to give them an aura of authenticity, etc. To call these things ‘freedom of expression’ is to miss the mark.

In the case of Harnoncourt, to use your analogy of a medical doctor, we have a doctor who has formed some ill-conceived opinions based on some, but insufficient personal research, rather than relying upon the true experts in the field. This doctor now turns to the patient and attempts to force the patient into the preconceived notions that he has gleaned by dabbling in medical research. The result is a patient whose illness is exacerbated by an inferior diagnosis. One tragedy is that the patient does not seek a second opinion, but rather continues this doctor’s treatment for a very long time. The greater tragedy is on the part of the doctor who makes absolutely no adjustments to personalize his treatment to fit the patient. Once he made his diagnosis, he rigidly stays with it for the long haul and stubbornly refuses to change his mind even as he observes the deteriorating condition of the patient. He does not listen to what the patient is telling him, and does not recognize that his efforts fail to bring about any improvement. On the contrary, he even allows the patient’s condition to worsen with time. It appears that the sloppy research based on his own preconceived notions coupled with insensitivity to the condition of the patient caused this doctor to be unsuccessful. Just keeping the patient alive may seem to be a remarkable deed until you consider how this patient might have improved considerably if it were not for the lack of insight and the perverse obstinacy with which the doctor continued his treatment of this patient.

To apply some of your words out of context, the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata cycle is, for the most part, ‘mediocre,’ ‘uninspired,’ lacking deep commitment to achieving a truly musical sound. Most of the time when I hear these cantata renditions there is no feeling that it sounds like” it could go no other way,” but rather that any other way might be better than this.

I agree fully with Brad’s statement:
< If the public accepts dull mediocrity as a standard, going gaga over something that is generic or badly-crafted (or both), that says more bad things about the public's taste than about the pursuit of the craft itself. >

HIP may have been greatly influenced by many of Harnoncourt’s misguided notions. This is why those who listen to these recordings should openly declare this cantata series as generic, badly-crafted, and exhibiting dull mediocrity. Perhaps then, as a result, there will be fewer epigones who wish to emulate the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series.

Brad declares:
< Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, sir. HIP, when it's done by strong musicians, is much more freeing than restrictive. If you hear a bad performance somewhere, fine, but don't blame it on the field itself. If "performance doctrines are applied to limit the interpretation-space to 'historically informed' performances," it just means the particular musicians doing that are mediocre or uninspired: they're letting themselves be limited. >
The self-imposed Harnoncourt/Leonhardt performance doctrines have proven themselves to be mainly limiting. What you hear these musicians doing week after week (if you follow the cantata discussions on the BCML) certainly fits, for the most part, your description of ‘being mediocre or uninspired” and allowing themselves to be limited.

Tom Braatz (a lover of many HIP performances, but still listening with a critical ear to determine why many HIP performances fail to live up to my expectations.)

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 3, 2002):
Someone wrote :
< The misconception regarding HIP comes as a result of not just some HIP performers being mediocre, but the greater portion of the pioneering Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata series on Teldec falling into this category. >

Sometimes ago I wrote that someone here hates Harnoncourt : I wasn't wrong. Now we know that the guilt for every bad recording belongs to the Austrian conductor, keep in mind when you listen to a dull HIP artist ;-)

< Such an extensive endeavor lasting almost 20 years from its inception to its completion is bound to have an effect on everything that follows it, particularly because it was the first of its kind. >
A curious reasoning

< Unfortunately, much of that which was presented to the listening public is of inferior quality. The reasons for this failure are numerous and have been discussed on the BCML. The ‘gross misconception’ is not on the part of those who hear the restrictive influence in the recordings, but rather with the perpetrators of a ‘gross misconception’ which is called HIP: Harnoncourt/Leonhardt. >
Send that (old) boy to jail! ;-)

< The HIP cantata experiments that Harnoncourt undertook are based on sloppy musicological research, >
Really?

< an inability to truly understand what is musical in singing and playing, >
Are you sure to know what is "true"? Please tell us , we live in the darkness.

< a notion that old instruments should be played crudely to give them an aura of authenticity, etc. To call these things ‘freedom of expression’ is to miss the mark. >
Your writings are a proof that "freedom of expression" exist (thanks God!)

< In the case of Harnoncourt, to use your analogy of a medical doctor, we have a doctor who has formed some ill-conceived opinions based on some, but insufficient personal research, rather than relying upon the true experts in the field. This doctor now turns to the patient and attempts to force the patient into the preconceived notions that he has gleaned by dabbling in medical research. The result is a patient whose illness is exacerbated by an inferior diagnosis. One tragedy is that the patient does not seek a second opinion, but rather continues this doctor’s treatment for a very long time. >
This patient is very stupid, while you're a genius.

< The greater tragedy is on the part of the doctor who makes absolutely no adjustments to personalize his treatment to fit the patient. Once he made his diagnosis, he rigidly stays with it for the long haul and stubbornly refuses to change his mind even as he observes the deteriorating condition of the patient. >
I'd call this doctor a criminal, as you've said with Harnoncourt (& Leonhardt) : the circle is closed.

< He does not listen to what the patient is telling him, and does not recognize that his efforts fail to bring about any improvement. On the contrary, he even allows the patient’s condition to worsen with time. It appears that the sloppy research based on his own preconceived notions coupled with insensitivity to the condition of the patient caused this doctor to be unsuccessful. Just keeping the patient alive may seem to be a remarkable deed until you consider how this patient might have improved considerably if it were not for the lack of insight and the perverse obstinacy with which the doctor continued his treatment of this patient. >
A really bad taste metaphor.

< To apply some of your words out of context, the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bcantata cycle is, for the most part, ‘mediocre,’ ‘uninspired,’ lacking deep commitment to achieving a truly musical sound. >
This is a personal opinion (curiously based on other people words).

< Most of the time when I hear these cantata renditions there is no feeling that it sounds like” it could go no other way,” but rather that any other way might be better than this. >
Really? So, why you waste your time in that way?

< I agree fully with Brad’s statement:
<< If the public accepts dull mediocrity as a standard, going gaga over something that is generic or badly-crafted (or both), that says more bad things about the public's taste than about the pursuit of the craft itself. >>
HIP may have been greatly influenced by many of Harnoncourt’s misguided notions. This is why those who listen to these recordings should openly declare this cantata series as generic, badly-crafted, and exhibiting dull mediocrity. >
Yes, Sir! Is this an order or a simple suggestion? Are you telling us what we have to say?

< Perhaps then, as a result, there will be fewer epigones who wish to emulate the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt series.
Brad declares:
<< Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, sir. HIP, when it's done by strong musicians, is much more freeing than restrictive. If you hear a bad performance somewhere, fine, but don't blame it on the field itself. If "performance doctrines are applied to limit the interpretation-space to 'historically informed' performances," it just means the particular musicians doing that are mediocre or uninspired: they're letting themselves be limited. >>
The self-imposed Harnoncourt/Leonhardt performance doctrines have proven themselves to be mainly limiting. What you hear these musicians doing week after week (if you follow the cantata discussions on the BCML) certainly fits, >
Certainly?

Riccardo (a critical listener who's going, this evening, to a MP performance directed by a "stupid"- see below)
_______________________________________________

"Today, when we perform J.S.Bach's Matthaus Passion, even in a modern auditorium, with an orchestra playing on modern instruments, we can't do without Nikolaus Harnoncourt's musicological contribution."
Riccardo Chailly

Francine Renee Hall wrote (March 3, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] I'm not a scholar or musicologist. I own four CDs in the old Teldec Cantata set Vol. 35 (Das Alte Werk). Harnoncourt was the first in so many areas to step into historically informed practices. He admitted himself in his book, 'The Musical Dialogue: Thoughts on Monteverdi, Bach and Mozart' that he was treading on uncertain ground, and bravely so. I'm personally pleased with what little I have of his cantata set, and I enjoy his incorporating boys' voices at that time. I've read wild claims in Gramophone and by other people's opinions that Suzuki can be too pure and impersonal. These are opinions. I think we should treat all attempts with respect and not just trash them totally. And it is fascinating to see the evolution of Harnoncourt's efforts through the decades.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 3, 2002):
Francine stated:
< I think we should treat all attempts with respect and not just trash them totally. And it is fascinating to see the evolution of Harnoncourt's efforts through the decades. >
The respect with which I have treated these Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata recordings extends to listening to them over the past 4 to 5 years as they appear in the order of the church year and more recently as agreed upon in the BCML. This means that I have listened carefully with score in hand to each cantata at least 4 or 5 times and in some instances, for the BCML discussions, more than just once or twice. I recognize that there are a few good or better-than-average performances among them, mainly among the very first recordings made in this series. If you read my earlier statement carefully, you will note that I did not "just trash" this series totally. It is imaginary to see a positive evolution taking place in this series, an evolution that can not be ascertained by listening only to the "four CDs in the old Teldec Cantata set Vol. 35 (Das Alte Werk)" which you own. The lack of such a positive evolution in this lengthy series is the great tragedy that I have been referring to. A truly great musician would have recognized early on the difficulties that were presenting themselves and would have made adjustments accordingly. As it is, this cantata series simply continued losing the initial enthusiasm (which in itself is not enough to create a lasting impression when other aspects of musicianship are lacking) that it had at its inception. Somehow Harnoncourt's efforts to evolve did not sufficiently touch the most extensive recording project that he had ever undertaken.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 4, 2002):
< Someone wrote: The respect with which I have treated these Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach cantata recordings >
Here are some exemples of what is "respect" for this guy :

BWV 31
Had the trumpets in the final section played this for Gottfried Reiche to hear his opinion on whether they were good enough for playing any music by Bach, he probably would have answered using words that could not be repeated here.

BWV 104
This is Harnoncourt's idea of choral singing! IMO he knows very little about choral singing and his sense of beauty in choral singing is mostly perverse

BWV 108
This aspect of Harnoncourt's direction is truly ridiculous. It is a shame that he could not rely on his inner musical ear to tell him otherwise, because I am certain that others, to no avail, already would have pointed this out to him, to keep him from destroying so much of Bach's music by persisting in his aberration.

BWV 87
Let's begin with the worst first. It is truly a shame that such a great Bach singer as Equiluz has to suffer so much at the hands of Harnoncourt.

BWV 37
Amazingly, (this is too good to be true, we 'must be on a roll' here the last few weeks) even Harnoncourt's version is very good, as are all the others.

BWV 178
Harnoncourt: If you want to hear what Mattheson is talking about when he refers to the "Schreihälse" ("those who scream instead of really trying to sing,") you have an example of this here

BWV 94
I am quite certain (just as certain as Harnoncourt was about these recordings) that Bach would have restated his words (although in the quote he had directed his statement against a music critic, it fits for those who follow the Harnoncourt Doctrine without relying on their own musical instincts and an ear for that which sounds good): "...so zweifle nicht, es werde des Auctoris Dreckohr gereiniget, und zur Anhörung der Musik geschickter gemacht werden." 10.12.1749 {"don't ever doubt that he will get his dirty ears cleaned out so that he, in time, can then apply his ears to hear music properly.}

***This guy probably worked on MTV some years ago.Do you remember when they use to cover female nipples, featured in some videos, with black strips? He uses the same hypocritical and bigot style : "Dreckor" is German for "ear full of s***" or "s***y ear", it's not a "clear" dirty ears. Bach dictated this letter to his ex-pupil Georg Friedrich Einicke (then Cantor in Frankenhausen) ; after Bach's death Mattheson harshly condemned what happened : "expression basse & dègoutante, indigne d'un maitre de chapelle...pauvre allusion au mot: Rector" [Dreckor-Rector : Bach was writing against Freiberg Rector Biedermann].
See at : Bach-Dokumente, BAND I, 1963, page 53 + comment.***

BWV 102
It is truly unfortunate that Teldec has sought to perpetuate the gross errors committed in this original series by issuing the BACH 2000 containing performances such as this. They are even available as single CD's!

BWV 179
"I can not help but think of Harnoncourt as a reincarnation of Krause, a First Prefect, who was assigned by Rector Ernesti to stand in for Bach. Bach had described Krause with the following choice words, "untüchtig, nicht geschickt, Ungeschicklichkeit, incapacitè" (summarize: "musically unproficient"). Unfortunately, Krause appeared twice in the choir loft, and each time Bach had to chase him away "with a lot of screaming and hollering." I can just imagine Bach using a few, well-chosen expletives, if he heard a Harnoncourt performance of a chorale such as this one."

Truly this man knows what respect, education and civilazation are.

< Extends to listening to them over the past 4 to 5 years as they appear in the order of the church year and more recently as agreed upon in the BCML. This means that I have listened carefully with score in hand to each cantata at least 4 or 5 times and in some instances, for the BCML discussions, more than just once or twice. >
LOL! (very loud ;-) )
I must find a way to let H&L know that their recordings have been honored by your multiple listenings. Honestly, who do you think you are? Your arrogance is endless.

< I recognize that there are a few good or better-than-average performances among them, mainly among the very first recordings made in this series. >
Oh, how kind you are :)

< If you read my earlier statement carefully, you will note that I did not "just trash" this series totally. >
Really?

< It is imaginary to see a positive evolution taking place in this series, an evolution that can not be ascertained by listening only to the "four CDs in the old Teldec Cantata set Vol. 35 (Das Alte Werk)" which you own. The lack of such a positive evolution in this lengthy series is the great tragedy that I have been referring to. >
What should be this "positive evolution"?

If an artist has an aesthetical vision he must apply it to the entirety, from beginning to the end. This is what I call coherence, and where is coherence there is intellectual honesty (something you don't know what is it). An exemple of incoherence is H.Rilling: in his complete cycle there are several cantatas where single movements are recorded in different years (BWV 71 & BWV 75, for exemple). What does it means this? Probably, after some years he "cancelled" some performances and replaced them with new recordings. H. Rilling or Dr.Frankestein? I was very disappointed when I discovered it, before I had great admiration for the German conductor, even if I wasn't totally convincted by his approach to Bach's cantatas.

A truly great musician

Harnoncourt is truly a great musician, it's not possible to say the same for you (who expect to be considere in this way).

"Today, when we perform J.S.Bach's Matthaus Passion, even in a modern auditorium, with an orchestra playing on modern instruments, we can't do without Nikolaus Harnoncourt's musicological contribution."
Riccardo Chailly

Robert Sherman wrote (March 4, 2002):
We are having an exchange in which Tom is posting substantive and very negative comments on various Harnoncourt performances, and Riccardo is "defending" Harnoncourt by making non-substantive and hostile comments about Tom

I haven't heard the recordings at issue so I have no axe to grind one way or the other re them. But for my part, I am interested in reading list members' views of recordings, both positive and negative. I am not interested in reading one member's insults against another.

I hope we can confine our comments to Bach recordings and respect each other.

Charles Francis wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Riccardo Nughes] So you've established someone's keen musical ear and impeccable musical taste. Was there another point I've missed?

Charles Francis wrote (March 4, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] I must say I find your view refreshingly untypical. If HIP, as you suggest, is about creating diversity in performance, then I'm all for it. But if its just an exercise in political correctness, an archaeological enterprise straightjacketing living breathing music to the dust of the past, then forget it.

 

Just Urtext versus Freedom of Expression

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 22, 2002):
Brad stated,
< Notes on paper are just notes on paper, not the music. >
If I understand you correctly, it is the reactive freedom of expression which you extol over the dead aspects of proper notation and form, aspects to which Bach devoted considerable time and energy because he wanted to specify these in greater detail than many other composers of his time were prone to do.

< An Urtext edition simply represents the general parameters of the music, like a blueprint for how to build a cat physically. >
A blueprint usually allows for extensions, additions, and sundry modifications to be added as the building is erected. This is exactly what occurs when notes are dropped because of strong accents on the preceding notes and when note values are truncated considerably. It then becomes a matter of not accepting what the composer has notated. I have some difficulty seeing the similarity between an Urtext performance of 'Cats' and that of an Urtext performance of any composition by Bach. The freedoms for ad-libbing and adding onto the skeleton of the 'Cats' Urtext do not seem to be in the same category with more restricted interpretive freedom that a Bach Urtext demands.

In clamoring for ever greater leeway of individual expression with its incumbent qualities of seeking extremes that listeners might consider unique if not startling and highly unusual, the performer begins to relinquish another important aspect and anchor of any performance: “Einfühlungsvermögen” [“the ability to sensitively put oneself, as much as this is possible, into a reverent attitude toward Bach’s music, and, first of all, accepting the restrictions of the Urtext, then working with it so that it becomes part of the performer as he/she sees a living blueprint (not photographic image) of it in the mind.”] In this way, the emphasis will not be upon the distraction of the cat that needed to go out, but upon the controlled movements of the cat in the imagination of the performer, a cat that will not go to the extremes of fighting that would distract the audience so that it focuses upon extreme behaviors rather than the controlled balance between elements.

< The music needs the interpretation of a sensitive and imaginative performer: someone who seeks out the things the composer may be trying to express through the notes, engages those ideas, dances with them, maybe even quarrels with them, tries to figure out what distinguishes that selection of notes and rhythms from random marks on paper, what distinguishes this piece of music from any other piece. >
Yes, much of this may be true. I am reminded of the quarrel with the form everytime I listen to Beethoven’s “Große Fuge” where struggle with the form is almost excruciating and the victory at the end a great relief. But this is not what I expect to hear in the inherent perfection of a Bach fugue, unless you suggest that a performer interpret a Bach fugue in Beethoven’s manner which would be rather anachronistic.

Calling Bach’s notations ‘random marks on paper’ seems to demote the importance of the Urtext and places a greater emphasis on the interpretive freedom allotted to a performer. While thinking about these statements, I am constantly reminded of a poem by one of the greatest minds in Western civilization, one for whom Felix Mendelssohn played Bach’s fugues: Goethe. This a poem, a sonnet, is couched in a form that is more difficult for a poet to use in the same way that a fugue is more difficult than a dance form for a composer, and yet, Goethe succeeds admirably while presenting at the same time an important message regarding the seeming dichotomy between ‘Natur’ = the freedom of expression and the natural flow of ideas as they occur at the moment and ‘Kunst’= the regulating aspects of the art form (here the form of the sonnet, but for this discussion the stipulations supby the Urtext):

Natur und Kunst, sie scheinen sich zu fliehen
Und haben sich, eh’ man es denkt, gefunden;
Der Widerwille ist auch mir verschwunden,
Und beide scheinen gleich mich anzuziehen.

Es gilt wohl nur ein redliches Bemühen!
Und wenn wir erst in abgemeßnen Stunden
Mit Geist und Fleiß uns an die Kunst gebunden,
Mag frei Natur im Herzen wieder glühen.

So ist’s mit aller Bildung auch beschaffen:
Vergebens werden ungebundne Geister
Nach der Vollendung reiner Höhe streben.

Wer Großes will, muß sich zusammenraffen;
In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.

[My quick, off-the-cuff, very free translation as applied to this discussion would be as follows:

The freedom of natural, individualistic expression on the one hand and the strict forms demanded by the Urtext on the other hand seem to be going off in opposite directions, but before you even think about it, they have rejoined in a common effort. Any feeling that the Urtext might be dead and severely restricting to individual freedom of expression has disappeared. Now I am attracted equally to both extremes.

Now is the time to put forth an honest effort in order to accomplish something worthwhile. If we have spent sufficient time devoting ourselves to the Urtext with full, industrious application of all the spiritual powers at our disposal, then the true nature of our individualistic expression can once again glow forth properly.

This is true of all similar attempts at gaining cultural refinement (an educative process): those uncontrolled ‘spirits’ [these are the musical artists that overemphasize freedom of expression over adherence to the composer’s Urtext] will continue to strive in vain to achieve a lofty level of perfection.

Whoever wants to achieve true greatness in an artistic performance, will need to learn to curb the tendency toward overdoing individualistic expression. It is in the very self-imposed limitations that a true master will reveal him/herself, and only by accepting the limitations of the Urtext (and the artistic forms contained therein) can we ever hope to achieve true freedom.]

Goethe wrote this poem in his classical (middle-age) period, after he had left behind his earlier Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period in which he rebelled against limitations and sought primarily free expression (not restricted by already existing verse forms) and indulged in shocking his audiences by having actors use rather crude language such as, “you can kiss my a..!” a line that is still written this way for all school editions.

By tending to overemphasize freedom of expression over pious regard for the Urtext, many performers of Bach’s music are in danger of creating an imbalance between these two necessary forces which, when working together as Goethe described this situation, can produce a variety of truly memorable performances that listeners will want to come back to again and again.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2002):
< Thomas Braatz wrote:
<< Brad stated,
Notes on paper are just notes on paper, not the music. >>
If I understand you correctly, it is the reactive freedom of expression which you extol over the dead aspects of proper notation and form, aspects to which Bach devoted considerable time and energy because he wanted to specify these in greater detail than many other composers of his time were prone to do. >
Well, no. Evidently you don't understand me correctly at all. "Reactive freedom of expression" says to me "the performer's personality is more important than the composer's" and I would thoroughly disagree with that.

But let's take this point by point.

First, Bach was thought by some of his contemporaries (e.g. those cited in the Bach Reader) to have been too specific in his notation. Yes. But in the bigger picture he's also much less specific in performance instructions than some others. Immediately I can think of d'Anglebert several generations before Bach (almost unbelievably thorough in his notation of harpsichord sonorities and techniques); Antoine Forqueray (who specifies two different types of vibrato on the viola da gamba, among other things); and Francois Couperin. Couperin's notation is "practical" where Bach's is more general (more theoretical, as if written at a desk rather than at an instrument, as if written to a mental ideal regardless of physical playability). Couperin anticipates and answers all a player's questions in his score: if one voice in the texture has to release a note so another voice can play it, Couperin scrupulously notates the first note short followed by a rest...not that it should sound short, but for the wholly practical reason that the finger must get off the note to make it available for replay. In Bach, the player needs to figure out on his own where to lift fingers early in such a situation. Couperin fills his scores with footnotes referring back to his own treatise on any notation that looks odd; Bach leaves no such written instructions at all, we have to figure out his intentions from context and extrapolation.

Or take the example where Bach copied a published Couperin piece into the Anna Magdalena Book. (Rondeau in Bb, BWV Anh. 183 = "Les Bergeries" from Couperin's 6th Ordre.) Couperin specified how long every left-hand note should be held for the correct expression of the music. Bach's copy simply shows where every note starts, they all look the same, and one would never know from the mere notation that one should hold some of those notes considerably longer than written to give the effect of Couperin's piece. If two performers are playing the version from the AMB, who's more faithful to the music: the one who reads the notes exactly as Bach wrote them, or the one who knows what Couperin notated more precisely, knows the intended sound behind the notes, and plays it that way? Bach didn't have to write it out in the more time-consuming detail because he was there to instruct those pupils how it should be done, regardless of how it looks.

<< An Urtext edition simply represents the general parameters of the music, like a blueprint for how to build a cat physically. >>
< A blueprint usually allows for extensions, additions, and sundry modifications to be added as the building is erected. This is exactly what occurs when notes are dropped because of strong accents on the preceding notes and when note values are truncated considerably. It then becomes a matter of not accepting what the composer has notated. (...) >
Differentiation of "good" and "bad" notes (strong and weak) is a fundamental element of both French and Italian style, and thorougly documented in the 17th and 18th centuries (and both instrumentally and vocally). It's more "wrong" not to do this than to do it! Music emulates speech, the way syllables vary in a spoken line. This expectation is behind the scenes, so well known and understood that the composers did not have to notate it...plus the music would be much more difficult to read if they did try to notate it.

< In clamoring for ever greater leeway of individual expression with its incumbent qualities of seeking extremes that listeners might consider unique if not startling and highly unusual, the performer begins to relinquish another important aspect and anchor of any performance: â?oEinfühlungsvermögenâ?¯ [â?othe ability to sensitively put oneself, as much as this is possible, into a reverent attitude toward Bachâ?Ts music, and, first of all, accepting the restrictions of the Urtext, then working with it so that it becomes part of the performer as he/she sees a living blueprint (not photographic image) of it in the mind.â?¯] In this way, the emphasis will not be upon the distraction of the cat that needed to go out, but upon the controlled movements of the cat in the imagination of the performer, a cat that will not go to the extremes of fighting that would distract the audience so that it focuses upon extreme behaviors rather than the controlled balance between elements. >
I like that word!

And of course I agree with this principle of sensitively and reverently approachinthe music, as the most basic and useful approach; but I also believe such "reverence" can be overdone. Whenever a text gets exalted above intentions and meaning, leading to a too-rigid and too-literal (literal, not necessarily literate!) reading, the "reverence" turns into idolatry.

Take the example of jazz improvisations transcribed into notation and published for eager emulators. (I have some of these books transcribed from Joe Pass and Bill Evans records, for example.) No matter how thoroughly the transcribers try to notate every nuance, littering the score with markings, the resultant transcription still never represents much more than half (if that much) of the sound that is in the original performance. There are so many subtleties that cannot be notated! Now, give this score to someone who has no feeling for jazz idioms, or who has never heard a Pass or Evans record. He might reproduce the notation in faithful detail, with impeccable general technique, and it might be beautiful...but it will also sound nothing like Joe Pass or Bill Evans: the spirit of improvisation will be gone, the subtlety of rhythm will be lacking, and the moods projected will probably be less intense. Give the score to someone who knows the style (both in his own work and from studying all the available Evans or Pass records, not just this one) and let him play something fresh, looking at the transcription as just a loose example, and with the authentic sound of the original records in his ear...he might change many of the notes and rhythms he sees on the page, but the result will sound a lot more like the original artist. "Reverence" for the score has not blinded him to getting the spirit and the sound right. The point was to sound like the composer as much as possible, and that can't be done by merelyfollowing the score markings slavishly and impersonally, in "reverence" to it.

Or back to that convenient "Cats" example: the best actor playing Rum Tum Tugger is the one who makes the audience believe he is the personification of that particular cat right there on stage, living and breathing and being Rum Tum Tugger. He's not striving to be the best possible "John-playing-Rum-Tum-Tugger", he's striving to sublimate John so completely into Rum Tum Tugger that everything John does naturally will come across as a natural gesture of Rum Tum Tugger...his own talent completely at the service of the role.

Or take a great film actor, say Anthony Hopkins. In "Instinct" he plays the madness and intensity of a scientific observer who got too close to his subject, and onscreen Hopkins is that wild man. In "Remains of the Day" he's a completely different character, equally believable, a man whose emotions are thoroughly sublimated into his professional role as a butler. In "Hearts in Atlantis" he's a kind and enigmatic man who lives upstairs. (I haven't seen his Hannibal Lecter....) Hopkins is so good that we believe we're watching the character, not watching Hopkins play a character. Hopkins' strength is in playing characters whose minds hold many more secrets than they let on, and consistently in Hopkins' performances that boiling-under-the-surface is apparent. He can turn that to advantage regardless of the surface that any particular character needs, and those surfaces could be extremely different. In comparison, think of any of the thousands of actors who merely play themselves in every role they're assigned. Their performances have personal expression, sure, and they're enjoyable to watch, but they're never so convincing that they are that character. They seem more like so-and-so standing there and saying lines accurately.

Well, it's the same in classical music. It's sometimes done well, and sometimes it's not. The so-so performers sound like "so-and-so playing X" or "so-and-so playing Y" or "so-and-so carefully following the Urtext Z". The great performers are so deeply into their roles that the music comes out naturally, and the performers sound different every time (and in every piece) according to whatever the role needs, whatever each occasion needs. They're able to go beyond the mere descriptions and prescriptions in a score...not with the goal of being personally expressive, but with the goal of presenting the music as vividly as possible, projecting whatever they have found in studying that role's requirements. The music seems to emerge under its own energy, moving like a living thing, and the performer is there merely to channel it, like a catalyst. The performer has to understand the form and notation to know where to begin, yes, and then having thoroughly assimilated those, he (she) has go far beyond being enslaved by them.

It's like cooking from a recipe, or building something from a specification (which I do every day at my job), or installing curtain rods. The written instructions and guidelines are never so complete that they cover every possible practical situation, and they could even have mistakes in them if the designer didn't anticipate every future possibility. That's true whether the instructions were written by someone else or by oneself. Doing the task well means fitting the practical situation into the design and extrapolating anything that is missing, asking questions, bringing in available resources, using one's talent and experience to accomplish the task as well as it can be done.

<< The music needs the interpretation of a sensitive and maginative performer: someone who seeks out the things the composer may be trying to express through the notes, engages those ideas, dances with them, maybe even quarrels with them, tries to figure out what distinguishes that selection of notes and rhythms from random marks on paper, what distinguishes this piece of music from any other piece. >>
< Yes, much of this may be true. I am reminded of the quarrel with the form everytime I listen to Beethovenâ?Ts â?oGroÃYe Fugeâ?¯ where struggle with the form is almost excruciating and the victory at the end a great relief. But this is not what I expect to hear in the inherent perfection of a Bach fugue, unless you suggest that a performer interpret a Bach fugue in Beethovenâ?Ts manner which would be rather anachronistic.
Calling Bachâ?Ts notations â?~random marks on paperâ?T seems to demote the importance of the Urtext and places a greater emphasis on the interpretive freedom allotted to a performer. <
Having misunderstood my premise here, that wrong conclusion does follow. As I was saying (or trying to say), the performer by studying the Urtext and facsimile editions tries to figure out what DISTINGUISHES this piece from random marks, engage that, and bring it out. (Any performer who assumes the composition is random probably shouldn't be performing at all!)

< While thinking about these statements, I am constantly reminded of a poem by one of the greatest minds in Western civilization, one for whom Felix Mendelssohn played Bach's fugues: Goethe. This a poem, a sonnet, is couched in a form that is more difficult for a poet to use in the same way that a fugue is more difficult than a dance form for a composer, and yet, Goethe succeeds admirably while presenting at the same time an important message regarding the seeming dichotomy between â?~Naturâ?T = the freedom of expression and the natural flow of ideas as they occur at the moment and â?~Kunstâ?T= the regulating aspects of the art form (here the form of the sonnet, but for this discussion the stipulations supplied by the Urtext):

Natur und Kunst, sie scheinen sich zu fliehen
Und haben sich, ehâ?T man es denkt, gefunden;
Der Widerwille ist auch mir verschwunden,
Und beide scheinen gleich mich anzuziehen.

Es gilt wohl nur ein redliches Bemühen!
Und wenn wir erst in abgemeÃYnen Stunden
Mit Geist und FleiÃY uns an die Kunst gebunden,
Mag frei Natur im Herzen wieder glühen.

So istâ?Ts mit aller Bildung auch beschaffen:
Vergebens werden ungebundne Geister
Nach der Vollendung reiner Höhe streben.

Wer GroÃYes will, muÃY sich zusammenraffen;
In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.

[My quick, off-thecuff, very free translation as applied to this discussion would be as follows:

The freedom of natural, individualistic expression on the one hand and the strict forms demanded by the Urtext on the other hand seem to be going off in opposite directions, but before you even think about it, they have rejoined in a common effort. Any feeling that the Urtext might be dead and severely restricting to individual freedom of expression has disappeared. Now I am attracted equally to both extremes.

Now is the time to put forth an honest effort in order to accomplish something worthwhile. If we have spent sufficient time devoting ourselves to the Urtext with full, industrious application of all the spiritual powers at our disposal, then the true nature of our individualistic expression can once again glow forth properly.

This is true of all similar attempts at gaining cultural refinement (an educative process): those uncontrolled â?~spiritsâ?T [these are the musical artists that overemphasize freedom of expression over adherence to the composerâ?Ts Urtext] will continue to strive in vain to achieve a lofty level of perfection.

Whoever wants to achieve true greatness in an artistic performance, will need to learn to curb the tendency toward overdoing individualistic expression. It is in the very self-imposed limitations that a true master will reveal him/herself, and only by accepting the limitations of the Urtext (and the artistic forms contained therein) can we ever hope to achieve true freedom.]

Goethe wrote this poem in his classical (middle-age) period, after he had left behind his earlier Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period in which he rebelled against limitations and sought primarily free expression (not restricted by already existing verse forms) and indulged in shocking his audiences by having actors use rather crude language such as, â?oyou can kiss my a..!â?¯ a line that is still written this way for all school editions.

By tending to overemphasize freedom of expression over pious regard for the Urtext, many performers of Bachâ?Ts music are in danger of creating an imbalance between these two necessary forces which, when working together as Goethe described this situation, can produce a variety of truly memorable performances that listeners will want to come back to again and again. >
Agreed, there has to be a balance...in BOTH directions! I'd say that many performers of Bach's music are so over-concerned with being "reverent" to the text that they miss the character of the music. Goethe is right in warning against one extreme. Let's not forget the other extreme.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 26, 2002):
Bradley Lehman stated:
< If two performers are playing the version from the AMB, who's more faithful to the music: the one who reads the notes exactly as Bach wrote them, or the one
who knows what Couperin notated more precisely, knows the intended sound behind the notes, and plays it that way? Bach didn't have to write it out in the more time-consuming detail because he was there to instruct those pupils how it should be done, regardless of how it looks. >
The point to be made here is that the AMB was very much a 'work in progress' where those who played from it under Bach's guidance were being asked to make just the types of decisions that you pointed out. Although the same might be said ('a work in progress') about many of Bach's compositions, it is also true that he frequently went to great lengths in personally adding his own articulation, dynamic, tempo, etc. markings to the parts from which instrumentalists played. Many times these were added only to the parts and are not evident from the score. Perhaps Bach wanted to avoid having to spend time explaining these at a rehearsal, or perhaps he was seeking for greater harmony and agreement between the various players and singers which could not occur as easily if this were simply a 'jam session.' With numerous musical lines distributed among a number of players and singers, there is also the need for a congruency that can not be left to the whim of the individual performers who might desire to express interpretive freedom: in a given musical composition by Bach, a musical phrase with a distinct articulation should reappear with the same articulation later on, not as I sometimes hear in certain contemporary recordings where each part may phrase it differently. When I hear a specific phrase performed a certain way by one performer, I expect as a listener, to hear this phrase repeated the same way later on by a performer playing a different instrument or singing a different vocal part.

< Differentiation of "good" and "bad" notes (strong and weak) is a fundamental element of both French and Italian style, and thoroughly documented in the 17th and 18th centuries (and both instrumentally and vocally). It's more "wrong" *not* to do this than to do it! Music emulates speech, the way syllables vary in a spoken line. This expectation is behind the scenes, so well known and understood that the composers did not have to notate it...plus the music would be much more difficult to read if they did try to notate it. >
I am not at all convinced that this is the case. Although Bach incorporated elements of the French and Italian style, nothing in the mainstream German style that Bach evolved from and which he remained a part of for his entire life indicates that ascribed fully to these other traditions. As far as Harnoncourt's "music emulates speech" theory, I have not yet sufficiently researched this notion, but my intuition (which may be mistaken) tells me that there is something inherently wrong with this assumption. I have ordered the German text versions of Harnoncourt's books so that I can 'get it directly from the horse's mouth.'

Regarding the French and Italian styles: frequently stylistic periods developed along certain lines reaching certain extremes that are known as mannerisms. To apply such mannerisms in reverse and make them appear to be Bach's original intentions is forcing the issue. I recently heard about the collaboration of two musical giants of the late Romantic period, Mahler and Busoni, on Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. It was the first time that these two musical revolutionaries decided to work together (it is always difficult to get geniuses of this sort to agree on much of anything.) They agreed that they wanted a truly revolutionary performance of Beethoven, unlike anything that was being presented to audiences at the beginning of the 20th century. What did they decide to do? Their approach was to rid this Beethoven concerto of all the performance mannerisms that had accumulated over the previous century. They wanted a truly authentic performance, one like that which Beethoven hims!
elf would have played. For this they went back to the Urtext. Now, finally, the world would again hear Beethoven the way he was supposed to have been played in the first place. It is difficult to imagine Busoni, with his numerous Bach transcriptions, where he modernized Bach, now turning to Beethoven with the opposite direction in mind. But such is genius. Too bad that we do not have a recording of this momentous performance, then we would know what they were really talking about.

Yes, balance and not overemphasis on either extreme (Urtext or Freedom of Expression) is what we need. Brad, I deplore the deadly 'notes-only' approach to Bach as well as the overemphasis on excessive freedom of expression. I believe that intelligent listeners should be able to recognize both extremes and 'call a spade a spade' whenever this becomes necessary.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< (...)interpretive freedom: in a given musical composition by Bach, a musical phrase with a distinct articulation should reappear with the same articulation later on, not as I sometimes hear in certain contemporary recordings where each part may phrase it differently. When I hear a specific phrase performed a certain way by one performer, I expect as a listener, to hear this phrase repeated the same way later on by a performer playing a different instrument or singing a different vocapart. >
I'm curious: why is consistency more attractive to you than a kaleidoscopic variety of articulations?

Or what do you make of something like #20 in the SMP (BWV 244) ("Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen") where the oboe's notated articulation is very different from the tenor where he has the same line but with words? It seems to me Bach is relishing the difference. The oboe is (in part) simulating a rooster's crowing, and the tenor is singing that he's resolved not to betray Jesus, he's not going to fall into a trap of consistency even if others do. :) Meanwhile, the basso continuo is foreshadowing the articulations that the chorus and the rest of the orchestra are going to use in their interjections. Can't Bach be allowed to suggest (via articulation) several types of emotion, several types of expression, several ideas going on simultaneously or even changing during the course of a piece?

Or how about in Bach's violin concertos, where the solo player's articulation is a long series of unexpected shapes? Vive la difference! Sometimes the irregularity seems to be the point of it.

Recently I watched the original version of Hitchcock's "Psycho" for the first time, after I'd already known Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack for years. There's a remarkable musical scene near the beginning (track 5 on the soundtrack CD conducted by Herrmann): Marion is packing her suitcase planning to sneak out of town. Three minutes of uninterrupted music, no dialogue. It gets going, and then breaks into a sequence where the same or similar phrases are repeated many times, but with a different articulation each time. Herrmann's scoring is so open that he's making his point very obviously and clearly, he wants to be sure we get it; and the texture is about as sparse as Marion's costume at the moment. Seeing the film, this variety of articulation makes perfect sense where it had merely sounded rather fragmented heard on CD. It's illustrating the vacillations of her mind as she questions and re-questions herself. We can tell from the music that she's not fully behind her own plan yet, it's still coming together in her mind. It's marvelous.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 27, 2002):
Bradley Lehman asked:
< I'm curious: why is consistency more attractive to you than a kaleidoscopic variety of articulations? >
You could ask this very question of Harnoncourt in his interpretation of the opening mvt. of the SMP (BWV 244) (his newest recording). Harnoncourt finds some later instances in ms. 14 and 15 where the triplet-like figures are articulated by Bach as follows: the first two notes are tied (Harnoncourt exaggerates the early release of the second note) and a single unaccented staccato note follows, but elsewhere (beginning in ms. 1 and continuing for the first 13 ms.), where Bach has a single tie over all three notes of the triplet-like groupings, Harnoncourt persists in not following the phrase markings that definitely stem from Bach's indications in his own handwriting, but rather consistently applies this more unusual articulation to the entire mvt. as a whole. Harnoncourt does this because it fits his usual performance style based on his use of strong accents followed by severely unaccented lesser notes. But this is certainly not what Bach had in mind!

< Or what do you make of something like #20 in the SMP ("Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen") where the oboe's notated articulation is very different from the tenor where he has the same line but with words? It seems to me Bach is relishing the difference. The oboe is (in part) simulating a rooster's crowing, and the tenor is singing that he's resolved not to betray Jesus, he's not going to fall into a trap of consistency even if others do. :) Meanwhile, the basso continuo is foreshadowing the articulations that the chorus and the rest of the orchestra are going to use in their interjections. Can't Bach be allowed to suggest (via articulation) several types of emotion, several types of expression, several ideas going on simultaneously or even changing during the course of a piece? >
A very interesting example with an excellent insight into the various levels of interpretations that Bach definitely could be thinking of. In this instance, however, there is the possibility that Bach was forced to make do with the words in the text and to make them fit what may already have been an existing theme. The oboe enunciates the articulation of the theme very naturally. It is left to the voice to make do whatever is possible with the words (trying to force more words into a short melodic phrase) without making it sound too unnatural despite the different phrasing required by the words. Thus differences do occur the same way that Bach frequently did his parodies where a new text was forced upon the already existing music.

< Or how about in Bach's violin concertos, where the solo player's articulation is a long series of unexpected shapes? Vive la difference! Sometimes the irregularity seems to be the point of it. >
Yes, here definitely Bach is after the effect that you have described, particularly as the solo player has everything under his/her command.

< That is, he's determined to stay awake even though everyone else may fall asleep or fall away...and he's not a rooster himself, either. Musical defiance portrayed vividly. He even has to say it a couple of times to himself, to remind himself to stay awake. :) >
Yes, Bach does sometimes illustrate this type of contrast or opposition musically.

< Another fun spot is the "Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum" of the B minor mass (BWV 232). The two oboes d'amore (plus strings) have different articulations even though they're echoing each other and intertwining very closely. And a soprano soloist and alto soloist have different timbres from one another when they're singing the same notes. Isn't Bach trying to say here: "Hey, we've got four different ways of doing this opening line, and the only thing we really agree on is the point of the piece: different people coming together for the one DJC the text is about!" If this all gets smoothed out for consistency, with everybody agreeing too much on how to do it, the piece is diminished: it loses a theological point. >
The two staccato notes followed by the two legato notes seem to be creating an echo effect. This repeats the same way with the voices as well. Your interpretation is interesting, however.

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 27, 2002):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Vive la difference! >
Still, you wrote once that none of Bach's clavier pieces sounded better on the piano than on the harpsichord. For a variety, the piano could be better at least for the pieces of improvisational character (I can't find an exact word actually; the pieces where rubatos, diminuendos and such are very acceptable eg slow parts of the toccatas, sarabandes from the suites etc)

:)

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] I don't think I ever said quite so categorically that "none of them are better on piano than harpsichord"...you must be reading something into it. :) My position is that the level of expression is more a function of the player and his/her imagination (and his/her willingness to really "go for it") than the instrument played. It's the player, not the tool, who makes the music.

But the character word you're searching for below (that improvisational character) is "Italianate".

If you're looking to hear my impression of Italianate style illustrated, listen to my clavichord recording of Caccini's "Amarilli mia bella" as arranged by Peter Philips (appearing in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book). I tried to play the rhythms very loosely and use plenty of dynamic sweep, always keeping the vocal-solo original in mind...it ends up having a lot more flexibility than appears on the page. Caccini was not only a composer but also wrote a treatise about the beautiful "new" Italian manner of singing...it's important to know what he was about when playing such an arrangement of his song. I haven't yet heard anyone else's recording thagoes quite so far into flexible rhythm as I'm trying to do here, the ones I've heard all seem too stiff to me...but I'm willing to be pleasantly surprised when one comes along. :) The idea is to make it sound as much like a good singer as possible. To get into the mood of playing this music loosely enough, I played Bill Evans jazz transcriptions immediately before it in the recording sessions. Music is music, whether it's 20th century American jazz or 17th century Italianate jazz! (I think I play that particular piece of Caccini/Philips better on harpsichord and virginal than I do on clavichord, just from being personally able to control those instruments better...but anyway, I think the interpretive ideas come through fairly well in that recorded example. I've also performed it on piano and organ, and those too work very well. Each instrument helps to bring out different things.)

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 27, 2002):
< I don't think I ever said quite so categorically that "none of them are better on piano than harpsichord"...you must be reading something into it. :) >
"As a harpsichordist I'm obligated to say "all of them." "<...>for a second opinion I asked my wife <..> she replied immediately, "ALL of them!"

: D

(at http://email.rutgers.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0104&L=f_minor&F=&S=&P=2582 )

< willingness to really "go for it") than the instrument played. It's the player, not the tool, who makes the music. >
...not forgetting the objective factors. You mentioned "dynamic differences" of the piano in that old post as one of virtues of the piano. You also weren't sure if it was a virtue in Bach, and I'm inclined to agree for the most part but with the exception of those "italianate" pieces that, in my opinion, benefit greatly from dynamic differences, just like Romantic piano music or jazz improvisations that they (italianate pieces) resemble.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Heh heh, Juozas, I see you've found words of mine that support such a reading. But no fair quoting a posting that I sent to a different list! And you're leaving out some important things by quoting me selectively (see below)....

And, as you'll recall, I was defending the harpsichord against your claim that harpsichords aren't expressive. I mean, what's a guy to do when his doctoral field is categorically dismissed, but take a defensive stance? :)

I've never once said or implied that all harpsichord performances of Bach are categorically better than any piano performance of Bach. No way!

On harpsichord vs piano I was just trying to say that starting with the most appropriate tool offers the most immediate advantages: the performer has to do the least extra work to bring off the music effectively. Efficiency, but not necessarily the end results. The right tools lead most efficiently and naturally to good results...that's true of any kind of task. At the same time, the player's artistry is still more important than the tools used; good results *can* be obtained with any adequate tool. I'd far rather hear a great piano performance than a rotten harpsichord performance, any day!

One of my very favorite harpsichord recordings (have I said this before?) is made on one of the worst-regulated harpsichords that's ever been recorded: an awfully weak and uneven tone color, individual notes too loud or too quiet, some of them sometimes not playing at all, some of the octaves far out of tune; and bad miking, too! And the player isn't even a harpsichordist, doesn't have any harpsichord technique, just some general (and not great) piano chops. How many strikes can one start with, and still succeed? Oh, the arrangements aren't all that brilliant, either.... But the direct soul he brings to his performance transcends all that. I'm referring to "O Riada's Farewell" on Claddagh Records: a set of simple (probably improvised) arrangements of Irish tunes played by the Dublin radio guy who started the Chieftains.
http://www.google.com/search?q=claddagh+records+riada+farewell

=======

Well, the context and my response in that earlier discussion were as follows: (April 15, 2001)

< I would also appreciate if you told me which keyboard works, in your opinion, do sound better on the harpsichord than on the piano. So far I've always looked for the piano renditions if there was a possibility. Maybe it's my prejudice to think that the piano gives more freedom for the performer and more "tools" to express emotions. >

As a harpsichordist I'm obligated to say "all of them." That's probably not a very helpful answer, however. (And I think there are some that sound even better on clavichord than they do on harpsichord *or* piano.) The piano's bland tone (few harmonics), uniformity across registers, and equal temperament all make Bach on the piano sound (to me) like a transcription. Sure, the piano can bring out individual lines with more obvious dynamic differences than the harpsichord, but I'm not sure that's a virtue in Bach. A good harpsichord gives registral clarity to begin with, and the player can do plenty with phrasing, articulation, and timing to bring out the lines beyond that (if necessary, which it usually isn't).

So, for a second opinion I asked my wife, "There's somebody on the Glenn Gould list asking which Bach pieces sound better on harpsichord than piano. Which ones do you think?" She replied immediately, "ALL of them!"


Pete Blue wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] I'd like to chime in on the perennial question of Bach on piano versus Bach on harpsichord/clavichord. It seems to me to always boil down to apples and oranges. IMO, Bach played on the piano is not, ever, a "Baroque" experience. Not necessarily inferior to harsichord, but qualitatively different.

Example from my own collection: the Goldberg Variations of Glenn Gould 1981 vs. Ton Koopman. I enjoy Gould a great deal more than Koopman, despite the latter's musicological/historiographical fanaticism. Gould offers much more aesthetic gratification to me. But when I listen to Gould, despite its anti-romantic objectives I dig it like I dig Schumann, not like I dig, say, Purcell, which is the "way" I listen to Koopman (whose Goldbergs are becoming more unlistenable with each playing!).

Does this make any sense to anyone else? At this moment I can't be less subjective.

Peter Bright wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Pete Blue]
I find it interesting that some of the great pianists, when confronted with Bach, play the piano in a way that "exaggerates" its similarity with the harpsichord. Murray Perahia's Goldbergs (which I treasure) was informed by his listening to countless harpsichord recordings; Gould's stabbing staccato approach in much of his Bach seems to me to rob the piano of "pianistic" qualities and shifts it towards a harpsichord aesthetic; Koroliov rarely allows use of foot pedals or variations in volume to creep into his performances (particularly on his excellent French Overture and inventions discs). In contrast, other wonderful players like Tureck, Hewitt, Fischer, Kempff (although very different) seem to ignore Bach's chosen instrument altogether and are not afraid of using the piano's versatility to colour their performance (even though this might draw complaints of ROMANTIC PLAYING - whatever that truly means...). I enjoy all these players, although I alternate between finding Gould's playing infuriating and exhilarating - he even seems to want the organ to sound like a harpsichord (!!) in the Art of Fugue pieces, rather than harnessing the very qualities that make it a great instrument.

Trevor Evans-Young wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] You know I agree with you but cannot explain why. Something about Schumann strikes a chord with me. I saw the 32 short films about GG a few days ago, again and it brought back to me so many thoughts. The one film that struck me as significant was the one he is listening to the playback of the Gigue from the a minor English Suite and the engineer says 'I am playing it back with all levels flat'. This is one of Gould's masterpieces where he builds crescendo after crescendo within such a short span of time while keeping this motoric impulse and adding ornaments within microseconds of time. In the film, Gould is shown dancing and conducting in ectasy. To me, and maybe to me only, Gould has translated those spots of ink on paper into something that reaches directly into me. On harpsichord, it might be a more 'correct' and cerebral experience but, on piano with Gould I hear Bach with joy and passion like it should be, it is in the music! Others play it so 'flat' that I find myself waving my arms around trying to pump some life into it. Well, now I feel like I am not making any sense.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Trevor Evans-Young] Makes sense to me, Trevor. But isn't it merely incidental that it's happening on piano? I'd say: (1) Gould really "got" the essence, the energy, of this particular piece, and (2) he expressed it through his own best skill, which was playing the piano. Who says any of this needs to be cerebral, which is only one way among many?

Thomas Boyce wrote (March 28, 2002):
All this talk of the piano, one of my favorite instruments, leads me to this:

did Bach like the (early) piano? Would he have liked a Steinway?

Would Bach have written his keyboard pieces differently if he was consciously writing them for a Steinway?

He played the organ, clavichord, etc.; would playing a Steinway have given him pleasure?

p.s. I don't work for Steinway(!)

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 26, 2002):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Brad stated,
<< Notes on paper are just notes on paper, not the music. >>
If I understand you correctly, it is the reactive freedom of expression which you extol over the dead aspects of proper notation and form, aspects to which Bach devoted considerable time and energy because he wanted to specify these in greater detail than many other composers of his time were prone to do. >
B: Well, no. Evidently you don't understand me correctly at all. "Reactive freedom of expression" says to me "the performer's personality is more important than the composer's" and I would thoroughly disagree with that.

But let's take this point by point.

First, Bach was *thought* by some of his contemporaries (e.g. those cited in the Bach Reader) to have been too specific in his notation. Yes. But in the bigger picture he's also much less specific in performance instructions than some others. Immediately I can think of d'Anglebert several generations before Bach (almost unbelievably thorough in his notation of harpsichord sonorities and techniques); Antoine Forqueray (who specifies two different types of vibrato on the viola da gamba, among other things); and Francois Couperin. Couperin's notation is "practical" where Bach's is more general (more theoretical, as if written at a desk rather than at an instrument, as if written to a mental ideal regardless of physical playability). Couperin anticipates and answers all a player's questions in his score: if one voice in the texture has to release a note so another voice can play it, Couperin scrupulously notates the first note short followed by a rest...not that it should sound short, but for the wholly practical reason that the finger must get off the note to make it available for replay. In Bach, the player needs to figure out on his own where to lift fingers early in such a situation. Couperin fills his scores with footnotes referring back to his own treatise on any notation that looks odd; Bach leaves no such written instructions at all, we have to figure out his intentions from context and extrapolation.

Or take the example where Bach copied a published Couperin piece into the Anna Magdalena Book. (Rondeau in Bb, BWV Anh. 183 = "Les Bergeries" from Couperin's 6th Ordre.) Couperin specified how long every left-hand note should be held for the correct expression of the music. Bach's copy simply shows where every note starts, they all look the same, and one would never know from the mere notation that one should hold some of those notes considerably longer than written to give the effect of Couperin's piece. If two performers are playing the version from the AMB, who's more faithful to the music: the one who reads the notes exactly as Bach wrote them, or the one who knows what Couperin notated more precisely, knows the intended sound behind the notes, and plays it that way? Bach didn't have to write it out in the more time-consuming detail because he was there to instruct those pupils how it should be done, regardless of how it looks.

<< An Urtext edition simply represents the general parameters of the music, like a blueprint for how to build a cat physically. >>
< A blueprint usually allows for extensions, additions, and sundry modifications to be added as the building is erected. This is exactly what occurs when notes are dropped because of strong accents on the preceding notes and when note values are truncated considerably. It then becomes a matter of not accepting what the composer has notated. (...) >
B: Differentiation of "good" and "bad" notes (strong and weak) is a fundamental element of both French and Italian style, and thorougly documented in the 17th and 18th centuries (and both instrumentally and vocally). It's more "wrong" not to do this than to do it! Music emulates speech, the way syllables vary in a spoken line. This expectation is behind the scenes, so well known and understood that the composers did not have to notate it...plus the music would be much more difficult to read if they did try to notate it.

< In clamoring for ever greater leeway of individual expression with its incumbent qualities of seeking extremes that listeners might consider unique if not startling and highly unusual, the performer begins to relinquish another important aspect and anchor of any performance: â?oEinfühlungsvermögenâ?¯ [â?othe ability to sensitively put oneself, as much as this is possible, into a reverent attitude toward Bachâ?Ts music, and, first of all, accepting the restrictions of the Urtext, then working with it so that it becomes part of the performer as he/she sees a living blueprint (not photographic image) of it in the mind.â?¯] In this way, the emphasis will not be upon the distraction of the cat that needed to go out, but upon the controlled movements of the cat in the imagination of the performer, a cat that will not go to the extremes of fighting that would distract the audience so that it focuses upon extreme behaviors rather than the controlled balance between elements. >
B: I like that word!

And of course I agree with this principle of sensitively and reverently approaching the music, as the most basic and useful approach; but I also believe such "reverence" can be overdone. Whenever a text gets exalted above intentions and meaning, leading to a too-rigid and too-literal (literal, not necessarily literate!) reading, the "reverence" turns into idolatry.

Take the example of jazz improvisations transcribed into notation and published for eager emulators. (I have some of these books transcribed from Joe Pass and Bill Evans records, for example.) No matter how thoroughly the transcribers try to notate every nuance, littering the score with markings, the resultant transcription still never represents much more than half (if that much) of the sound that is in the original performance. There are so many subtleties that cannot be notated! Now, give this score to someone who has no feeling for jazz idioms, or who has never heard a Pass or Evans record. He might reproduce the notation in faithful detail, with impeccable general technique, and it might be beautiful...but it will also sound nothing like Joe Pass or Bill Evans: the spirit of improvisation will be gone, the subtlety of rhythm will be lacking, and the moods projected will probably be less intense. Give the score to someone who knows the style (both in his own work and from studying all the availablEvans or Pass records, not just this one) and let him play something fresh, looking at the transcription as just a loose example, and with the authentic sound of the original records in his ear...he might change many of the notes and rhythms he sees on the page, but the result will sound a lot more like the original artist. "Reverence" for the score has not blinded him to getting the spirit and the sound right. The point was to sound like the composer as much as possible, and that can't be done by merely following the score markings slavishly and impersonally, in "reverence" to it.

Or back to that convenient "Cats" example: the best actor playing Rum Tum Tugger is the one who makes the audience believe he is the personification of that particular cat right there on stage, living and breathing and being Rum Tum Tugger. He's not striving to be the best possible "John-playing-Rum-Tum-Tugger", he's striving to sublimate John so completely into Rum Tum Tugger that everything John does naturally will come across as a natural gesture of Rum Tum Tugger...his own talent completely at the service of the role.

Or take a great film actor, say Anthony Hopkins. In "Instinct" he plays the madness and intensity of a scientific observer who got too close to his subject, and onscreen Hopkins is that wild man. In "Remains of the Day" he's a completely different character, equally believable, a man whose emotions are thoroughly sublimated into his professional role as a butler. In "Hearts in Atlantis" he's a kind and enigmatic man who lives upstairs. (I haven't seen his Hannibal Lecter....) Hopkins is so good that we believe we're watching the character, not watching Hopkins play a character. Hopkins' strength is in playing characters whose minds hold many more secrets than they let on, and consistently in Hopkins' performances that boiling-under-the-surface is apparent. He can turn that to advantage regardless of the surface that any particular character needs, and those surfaces could be extremely different. In comparison, think of any of the thousands of actors who merely play themselves in every role they're assigned. Their performances have personal expression, sure, and they're enjoyable to watch, but they're never so convincing that they are that character. They seem more like so-and-so standing there and saying lines accurately.

Well, it's the same in classical music. It's sometimes done well, and sometimes it's not. The so-so performers sound like "so-and-so playing X" or "so-and-so playing Y" or "so-and-so carefully following the Urtext Z". The great performers are so deeply into their roles that the music comes out naturally, and the performers sound different every time (and in every piece) according to whatever the role needs, whatever each occasion needs. They're able to go beyond the mere descriptions and prescriptions in a score...not with the goal of being personally expressive, but with the goal of presenting the music as vividly as possible, projecting whatever they have found in studying that role's requirements. The music seems to emerge under its own energy, moving like a living thing, and the performer is there merely to channel it, like a catalyst. The performer has to understand the form and notation to know where to begin, yes, and then having thoroughly assimilated those, he (she) has go far beyond being enslaved by them.

It's like cooking from a recipe, or building something from a specification (which I do every day at my job), or installing curtain rods. The written instructions and guidelines are never so complete that they cover every possible practical situation, and they could even have mistakes in them if the designer didn't anticipate every future possibility. That's true whether the instructions were written by someone else or by oneself. Doing the task well means fitting the practical situation into the design and extrapolating anything that is missing, asking questions, bringing in available resources, using one's talent and experience to accomplish the task as well as it can be done.

< The music needs the interpretation of a sensitive and imaginative performer: someone who seeks out the things the composer may be trying to express through the notes, engages those ideas, dances with them, maybe even quarrels with them, tries to figure out what distinguishes that selection of notes and rhythms from random marks on paper, what distinguishes this piece of music from any other piece. >>
< Yes, much of this may be true. I am reminded of the quarrel with the form everytime I listen to Beethovenâ?Ts â?oGroÃYe Fugeâ?¯ where struggle with the form is almost excruciating and the victory at the end a great relief. But this is not what I expect to hear in the inherent perfection of a Bach fugue, unless you suggest that a performer interpret a Bach fugue in Beethovenâ?Ts manner which would be rather anachronistic.
Calling Bachâ?Ts notations â?~random marks on paperâ?T seems to demote the importance of the Urtext and places a greater emphasis on the interpretive freedom allotted to a performer. >
B: Having misunderstood my premise here, that wrong conclusion does follow. As I was saying (or trying to say), the performer by studying the Urtext and facsimile editions tries to figure out what DISTINGUISHES this piece from random marks, engage that, and bring it out. (Any performer who assumes the composition is random probably shouldn't be performing at all!)

< While thinking about these statements, I am constantly reminded of a poem by one of the greatest minds in Western civilization, one for whom Felix Mendelssohn played Bach's fugues: Goethe. This a poem, a sonnet, is couched in a form that is more difficult for a poet to use in the same way that a fugue is more difficult than a dance form for a composer, and yet, Goethe succeeds admirably while presenting at the same time an important message regarding the seeming dichotomy between â?~Naturâ?T = the freedom of expression and the natural flow of ideas as they occur at the moment and â?~Kunstâ?T= the regulating aspects of the art form (here the form of the sonnet, but for this discussion the stipulations supplied by the Urtext):

Natur und Kunst, sie scheinen sich zu fliehen
Und haben sich, ehâ?T man es denkt, gefunden;
Der Widerwille ist auch mir verschwunden,
Und beide scheinen gleich mich anzuziehen.

Es gilt wohl nur ein redliches Bemühen!
Und wenn wir erst in abgemeÃYnen Stunden
Mit Geist und FleiÃY uns an die Kunst gebunden,
Mag frei Natur im Herzen wieder glühen.

So istâ?Ts mit aller Bildung auch beschaffen:
Vergebens werden ungebundne Geister
Nach der Vollendung reiner Höhe streben.

Wer GroÃYes will, muÃY sich zusammenraffen;
In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.

[My quick, off-the-cuff, very free translation as applied to this discussion would be as follows:

The freedom of natural, individualistic expression on the one hand and the strict forms demanded by the Urtext on the other hand seem to be going off in opposite directions, but before you even think about it, they have rejoined in a common effort. Any feeling that the Urtext might be dead and severely restricting to individual freedom of expression has disappeared. Now I am attracted equally to both extremes.

Now is the time to put forth an honest effort in order to accomplish something worthwhile. If we have spent sufficient time devoting ourselves to the Urtext with full, industrious application of all the spiritual powers at our disposal, then the true nature of our individualistic expression can once again glow forth properly.

This is true of all similar attempts at gaining cultural refinement (an educative process): those uncontrolled â?~spiritsâ?T [these are the musical artists that overemphasize freedom of expression over adherence to the composerâ?Ts Urtext] will continue to strive in vain to achieve a lofty level of perfection.

Whoever wants to achieve true greatness in an artistic performance, will need to learn to curb the tendency toward overdoing individualistic expression. Iis in the very self-imposed limitations that a true master will reveal him/herself, and only by accepting the limitations of the Urtext (and the artistic forms contained therein) can we ever hope to achieve true freedom.]

Goethe wrote this poem in his classical (middle-age) period, after he had left behind his earlier Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period in which he rebelled against limitations and sought primarily free expression (not restricted by already existing verse forms) and indulged in shocking his audiences by having actors use rather crude language such as, â?oyou can kiss my a..!â?¯ a line that is still written this way for all school editions.

By tending to overemphasize freedom of expression over pious regard for the Urtext, many performers of Bachâ?Ts music are in danger of creating an imbalance between these two necessary forces which, when working together as Goethe described this situation, can produce a variety of truly memorable performances that listeners will want to come back to again and again. >
B: Agreed, there has to be a balance...in BOTH directions! I'd say that many performers of Bach's music are so over-concerned with being "reverent" to the text that they miss the character of the music. Goethe is right in warning against one extreme. Let's not forget the other extreme.

 

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