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Invisible Bach

Invisible Bach

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (June 20, 2008):
Greetings from the woods!

I've been busy, sorry. Thanks for the erudite message Doug! :) I do have one question: was it always so? The invisibility, I mean. I seem to have a recollection that the passions were NOT always done invisible to the audience. Am I completely wrong? That Matthew passion in particular; wasn't it done with Jesus and and the evangelist facing the audience on at least one occasion?

William Hoffman wrote (June 20, 2008):
Jeremy Vosburgh wonders: <I seem to have a recollection that the passions were NOT always done invisible to the audience. >
William Hoffman responds: I think there's a history of semi-staging, primarily in private venues in Italy and Vienna, with elaborate scenic flats and costumes. I also believe there was some inference that in Hamburg ca. 1705 early German Passions during Holy Week may have been planned for presentation in similar fashion. The works were Postel's St. John Passion, now probably by Keiser, and a Keiser passion oratorio. As for Bach's Leipzig, three circumstances come to mind. 1. Eidam in his Bach biography shows a graphic with the caption: "The interior of St. Thomas Church in Bach's day. Because of the various built-in fixtures, the acoustics of the time were totally different." 2. For the first performance of the SJP (BWV 245) in 1724, Bach forced the consistory to repair the platform to accomodate the choir at St. Nicholas. 3. Christian Gerber's "History of Church Ceremonies in Saxony" (1732) describes in detail the Pietists' response to the first performance of a large-scale concerted Passion with its theatrical trappings. Perhaps this was Telemann's Brockes Passion in 1717 at the University Church or Kuhnau's oratorio Passion St. Mark in 1721 and 1723 at St. Thomas. Finally, there is the elaborate Memorial Service for Prince Leopold at the Köthen St. Jakobskirche (photo 52 in Terry's Bach Biography), March 23-24, 1729 (Chapter 10, Smend's Bach in Köthen, rev. 1985). Besides double choir and large orchestra perfoming the Picander parody of the SMP (BWV 244), Cantata BWV 244a, the event included numerous digitaries as well as noted musicians, perhaps the likes of violinist Johann David Heinichen leading the ensemble and Anna Magdalena Bach singing the soprano solos.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 20, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Besides double choir and large orchestra perfoming the Picander parody of the SMP (BWV 244), Cantata BWV 244a, the event included numerous digitaries as well as noted musicians, perhaps the likes of violinist Johann David Heinichen leading the ensemble and Anna Magdalena Bach singing the soprano solos. >
Is there evidence that women ever sang in Leipzig churches as soloists or as choir members before the end of the 18th century?

William Hoffman wrote (June 20, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Is there evidence that women ever sang in Leipsig churches as soloists or as choir members before the end of the 18th century? >
William Hoffman replies: to the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence. Later this year, we'll discuss the soprano Cantata BWV 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, which George Stauffer recently suggested might have been written for castrato in Dresden. There were visiting Italian opera troupes in Leipzig in Bach's time but they performed in secular venues. I believe, no castrati were allowed in churches. Hasse and his wife often visited and she could have performed at Zimmermann's or at Mariane von Ziegler's domicile. Stauffer still believes in a performance of the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) (Kyrie-Gloria) in 1733 in Dresden. In 1786, CPE Bach presented a practical edition of the Credo in a secular venue (subscription concerts) in Hamburg, with women, I assume, a tradition that included women singing in churches there in the early 1700s.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 20, 2008):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Jeremy Vosburgh wonders: I seem to have a recollection that the passions were NOT always done invisible to the audience.
William Hoffman responds: I think there's a history of semi-staging, primarily in private venues in Italy and Vienna, with elaborate scenic flats and costumes.2. For the first performance of the SJP (
BWV 245) in 1724, Bach forced the consistory to repair the platform to accomodate the choir at St. Nicholas. 3. Christian Gerber's "History of Church Ceremonies in Saxony" (1732) describes in detail the Pietists' response to the first performance of a large-scale concerted Passion with its theatrical trappings. Perhaps this was Telemann's Brockes Passion in 1717 at the University Church or Kuhnau's oratorio Passion St. Mark in 1721 and 1723 at St. Thomas. >
There are a number of competing traditions here.

The Roman oratorio tradition had staged and semi-staged performances but these were outside of the liturgy at what we would call "sacred music concerts". Interestingly, there seemed to have been an avoidance of representing the figure of Christ theatrically. We see this in Händel's Roman oratorio, "La Resurrezione" where the figures of Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi, Peter, John, Satan and the Angel are all dramatized, but Christ is always off-stage. It's worth noting that these oratorios were perfomed outside church buildings in halls set up for theatircal persentation. Vivaldi's "Juditha Triumphans" is a good example of the oratorio staged outside of the church.

Bach's connection with the Roman oratorio tradition is represented by the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) which like Händel's work does not depict Christ musically. In Bach's original score, the four singers are given the names of the biblical character but he omitted the proper names. It would be interesting to know if Bach intended the work in its original Christ-less version for a Dresden performance. In Leipzig it was just an extended cantata and he never made any attempt to add an evangelist singing the biblical narratives.

The Passions on the other hand come out of the pre-Reformation tradition of chanting the four scriptural passages as the Gospel during Holy Week: Matthew on Palm Sunday, Mark on Monday, Luke on Tuesday and John on Friday. The narrative was sung unaccompanied by three deacons: the lowest voice singing Christ, the middle voice singing the Evangelist and the highest voice singing the crowd and other characters. During the 15th and 16th century, the crowd choruses began to be set polyphonically: the settings of Lassus, Byrd and Victoria are the most famous. None of these Passions were staged although the singers could be seen.

Lassus' settings are particularly important to the development of Passion music in Germany because he also set the other speeches of the minor characters as two voice contrapuntal pieces. Bach would have known the works Lassus, and, interestingly in the SMP (BWV 244), the False Witnesses and the Two High Priests are written as fugal duets.

Sidebar: the 17th century Oberammergau Passion Play in which Christ appears is a survival of the medieval cycle plays were always played outdoors and with only incidental music.

At the Reformation, when much ceremonial was abolished, the responsibilty for the chanting of the Passion narrative passed from the clerics in the sanctuary to the lay singers in the choir loft. This musical shift can be seen in the Schutz Passion where all the singers are in the choir loft and the clergy have no musical role. This is the tradition which Bach inherited. If there were indeed staged peformances of Passions in Germany, it would be interesting to see how fully staged they were, whether Christ was represented, and whether they were performed in churches.

Given the austerity of Lutheran worship even with its vestigial Catholic trappings of vestments, it's hard to imagine anything but an invisible performance of Bach's Passions.

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 20, 2008):
>Jeremy Vosburgh wonders: I seem to have a recollection that the passions were NOT always done invisible to the audience.<
>William Hoffman responds: I think there's a history of semi-staging ...
As for Bach's
Leipzig, three circumstances come to mind. ...<
Ed Myskowski responds (to both): First of all, compliments for clarity of the thread! Setting a new standard, and a good example for BCML. I will make every effort to follow.

Bachs first contract in Leipzig included specific language forbidding <operatic impressions> (Bach Reader, 1723 document, Bachs Final Undertaking). A curious mind (such as mine) might wonder if the two-choir (or two-quartet) arrangement, plus additional parts, of SMP (BWV 244) represents Bach testing the limits of that contractual restraint, and looking for innovative methods for maximum musical communication.

I also wonder if the burghers(?) of Leipzig had reason to expect that it was necessary to impose this specific restriction on Bach, or if it was a more general part of the job description, necessary to contrast with practices in other locales. Note that the document cited was written by Bach, after his appointment, but that he is specifically reiterating the requirement of the Leipzig Town Council.

I also note in passing the requirement that the music shall <incite the listeners to devotion>, supporting my point from other posts that it is naive, at best, to suggest that Church and Town authorities were distinct entities in Bachs Leipzig in the 18th century.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (June 20, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>A curious mind (such as mine) might wonder if the two-choir (or two-quartet) arrangement, plus additional parts, of SMP (BWV 244) represents Bach testing the limits of that contractual restraint, and looking for innovative methods for maximum musical communication.>
Two choirs and spatial placement of musicians stems from the unique layout of St. Mark's in Venice. Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557 - August 12, 1612), wrote extensive pieces that made use of these multiple choirs and their placement in various places around the church. There was no connection to doing this with "Operatic music."

Heinrich Schütz (October 8 (JC), 1585 Köstritz - November 6, 1672 Dresden) studied with Gabrieli and brought the double choir approaches to choral music with him, which in turn was emulated through Germany.

Michael Praetorius wrote at great length about the spacing musicians around a church for greater effects, especially in "Syntagma musicum." Bach participated in a large Buxtehude oratorio (unfortunately lost) that required several bands of instruments and choruses to be spread out in the church. Again, this had nothing to do with opera performances or Bach pushing the limits of his contract in Leipzig.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 20, 2008):
Spatial Bach

Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Heinrich Schütz (October 8 (JC), 1585 Köstritz - November 6, 1672 Dresden) studied with Gabrieli and brought the double choir approaches to choral music with him, which in turn was emulated through Germany. >
Interestingly, both Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli came from Venice to study with Rolandus Lassus in Munich. The Venice-Munich axis was very strong.

Although many Renaissance composers wrote in double choir format, that layout doesn't always mean that the choirs and ensembles had a dramatic spatial separation as in Venice. For instance, we know that the double choir motets of Palestrina, Victoria and Lassus were performed by choirs which stood stide by side in one gallery.

Bach's best choirs sang in 8 parts all the time -- both Lassus and Gabrieli were in their recurring reperetoire -- but there is little to suggest that the two choirs in those works or in Bach's own motets tried for spatial separation. The fact that the choirs often join forces to produce one 4-voice choir is a pretty good indicator that they stood side by side in the western choir loft (the conclusion of "Singet dem Herrn" is a striking example)

The tradition of differentiating the choirs through contrasting isntrumental accompaniment was codified as early as Praetorius. Bach knew that tradition and there are instrumental parts for some of the motets with strings doubling one choir and winds the other. John Butt does much the same in his SMP (BWV 244) recording when he gives organ continuo to Choir I and harpsichord to Choir 2 (I havent; heard the performance yet)

John Pike wrote (June 21, 2008):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< John Butt does much the same in his SMP (BWV 244) recording when he gives organ continuo to Choir I and harpsichord to Choir 2 (I havent; heard the performance yet) >
Yes, Butt is following Bach's scoring for his 1742 version of the SMP (BWV 244), of which this is a recording. (In his recording of the 1749 version of the SJP (BWV 245), Suzuki uses Harpsichord in the continuo, as per Bach's scoring for that version).

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 21, 2008):
Spatial Bach [was: Invisible Bach]

Ed Myskowski wrote:
>A curious mind (such as mine) might wonder if the two-choir (or two-quartet) arrangement, plus additional parts, of SMP (BWV 244) represents Bach testing the limits of that contractual restraint, and looking for innovative methods for maximum musical communication.<
Kim Patrick Clow responded:
>Two choirs and spatial placement of musicians stems from the unique layout of St. Mark's in Venice. Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557 – August 12, 1612)<
Ed Myskowski responds:
I was thinking even more of the <additional parts>, than the double choir. I certainly did not mean to suggest that Bach was creating a novelty with his spatial placment of the two choirs, but the point that it is not a novelty, with Bach, is well taken.

See Melamed (especially Table 2-2, p. 137) for the vocal parts of SMP (BWV 244), 1736 performance, including brief vocal roles (Peter, Pilate, Pilates wife, Maids), not from either choir. This may also help to shed some light on the <confusing comment> from Butt's notes, mentioned by jfl. The actual draeffects from the two choirs/soloists are rather more complex, and needing of separate discussion. IMO, it does not necessarily follow that because SMP (BWV 244) is a great work, it is therefore perfect. Perhaps soloists and choirs taking multiple roles in continually alternating time frames (historic passion/present commentary) is simply confusing, no matter how much we wish it otherwise?

I will attempt a concise statement of the evidence and scholarly opinions, as I understand them, of the total SMP (BWV 244) structure, including minor roles:

By the time of the third performance of SMP (BWV 244) in 1736, the work had achieved central importance in Bachs legacy to the extent that he personally and carefully, with several colors of ink, prepared a fair copy of the score. The performing parts from 1736 are also extant, making the entire assemblage an essential set of documents to evaluate Bachs performance practice.

The parts include some unique minor roles, especially Peter and Pilate, which suggest that Bach was striving for novel (for him) dramatic effect. See also Melameds suggestion (summarized in Table 2-1, p. 136) that the minor roles actually began with SJP (BWV 245) in 1725, Pilate and Servant, in that instance.

To me, drama with music equals opera, although if handled with proper subtlety, it may not make an <operatic impression>.

Careful consideration of the 1736 SMP (BWV 244) score and performing parts, by Melamed, is supportive of the OVPP hypothesis of Rifkin and Parrott.

Doug Cowling wrote:
>Bach's best choirs sang in 8 parts all the time -- both Lassus and Gabrieli were in their recurring reperetoire -- but there is little to suggest that the two choirs in those works or in Bach's own motets tried for spatial separation.<
Independent of the spatial discusssion, is the suggestion that the choirs for routine Sunday performance in two churches <sang in 8 parts all the time>? If so, that does not exactly disprove the OVPP hypothesis (which is based on analysis of the extant cantata and passion parts, as I understand it), but neither is it supportive. To put it plainly, if the singers were available for other works, is it not most likely that they would also participate in the cantatas?

This strikes me as a crucial point, worthy of a bit more elaboration and support, of the statement that <Bachs best choirs sang in 8 parts all the time.>

A bit of characteristic whimsy, to conclude. Perhaps the minor roles in the passions were created because Bach always had a few extra competent singers in the roster (on the bench?), and he made a special point to create something for everyone, for the big event. There is absolutely nothing that I see to specifically support this thought, but it is consistent with the evidence, and not in the least absurd. Conjecture, on the way to hypothesis?

I expect it is unnecessary to invite differing opinions, but just in case - welcome, in advance.

John Pike wrote (June 21, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< By the time of the third performance of SMP (BWV 244) in 1736, the work had achieved central importance in Bachs legacy to the extent that he personally and carefully, with several colors of ink, prepared a fair copy of the score. The performing parts from 1736 are also extant, making the entire assemblage an essential set of documents to evaluate Bach's performance practice. >
JP: At some stage, the front page of the 1736 score of the SMP (BWV 244) was damaged in some way. Bach removed the right half of the page, attached another piece of paper in its place, and rewrote on the new paper the parts of the title that had been removed; more evidence, perhaps, of the great importance he attached to the score.

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 21, 2008):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Independent of the spatial discusssion, is the suggestion that the choirs for routine Sunday performance in two churches <sang in 8 parts all the time>? If so, that does not exactly disprove the OVPP hypothesis (which is based on analysis of the extant cantata and passion parts, as I understand it), but neither is it supportive. To put it plainly, if the singers were available for other works, is it not most likely that they would also participate in the cantatas? <
This is one of the most interesting questions in the OVPP debate. Did everyone in the choir loft sing everything on a particular Sunday? Let's say the following music had to be sung on a major festival in St. Thomas':

A five-voice motet with organ for the Introit by Lassus
A four voice concerted setting of the Kyrie & Gloria
A four-voice polyphonic setting of the Collect and Responses
A unison congregational without organ before the Gospel
A four-voice cantata before the Gospel
A unison chorale with organ for the Credo
A six-voice concerted setting of the Sanctus
and so on ...

On Sunday morning, we know that all of the students divided into their four choirs and set off for their appointed churches. Their appearance at public worship was first and foremost a school regulation designed to form their devotion.

So there they all are on their benches when the bells ring -- they're fined if thye're not. The music stands are there with the various printed books and manuscript music before them.

So who comes forward to sing?

Does everyone sing the familiar unison Credo 'Wir Glauben' from memory?

Are their enough printed chorale-books for pairs or threes to sing a four-part chroale?

If the Lassus motet was standard repertoire -- perhaps it was always sung on this Sunday each year -- do more experienced singers perform something they had sung before and knew was traditional on that Sunday?

Do the most talented singers only perform the newly-composed cantata?

And then there's the practice of singers also performing as instrumentalists.

Endless possibilities for speculation ...

 

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Last update: żNovember 28, 2008 ż13:48:47