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Men in Bach's Vocal Works

Bach's Men Singers

See also: Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism [by J. Herl] [Books]

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 16, 2006):
I just finished a terrific new scholarly study which raises many questions about Bach's performance situation:

Herl, J. "Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choirs, Congregation and Three Centuries of Conflict", Oxford: University Press, 2004.

It basically outlines the development of the Lutheran liturgy from pre-Reformation times (Catholic churches sang vernacular songs during mass!) to the end of the 18th century (when chorale singing had slowed to one note every four seconds!) It also describes in detail the choral establishments and performance practice with organ and instruments.

One of the most interesting parts is the description of the men who sang in Lutheran choirs. Evidently it was common for school boys who had graduated and whose voices had changed to continue to sing for the church as adult tenors and basses. These singers were largely professionals who were moved by musical interests and devotion to continue singing. They formed professional associations called "adjuvanten-gesellschaften" (= company of assistants) or "Kantoreien" (= body of singers).

Membership fees were charged and members were entitled to elaborate music at their funerals. Rehearsals always closed with food and drink and wives were invited to these "collationes".

I took a quick look through Wolff, and he doesn't seem to discuss where the men came from who sang in Bach's choirs (am I missing it?) Alas, Herl does not discuss Bach's particular situation in Leipzig, but if Leipzig had this kind of choral guild, Bach was assured of an experienced, cultured professional body of singers -- even music-loving aristocrats were members of these associations. Does anyone know of any studies of the Leipzig singers?

And a couple of interesting notes to the history of women singing in church
...
There were a number of churches in the 16th century which had girls' choirs which sang in alternatim with the schoolboy choirs. They were probably successors to convent choirs, but the tradition seems to have died out in the 17th century. Mattheson introduced women into the Hamburg cathedral choir in 1739. Evidently he had to take precautions that no one could see them -- presumably including the other male singers in the gallery! This was an innovation which was not permitted in the city's parish churches. A writer in 1721 advocated allowing women to sing "although it would cause consternation at first".

Raymond Joly wrote (August 16, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I just finished a terrific new scholarly study which raises many questions about Bach's performance situation:
Herl, J. "Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choirs, Congregation and Three Centuries of Conflict", Oxford: University Press, 2004.
[...] One of the most interesting parts is the description of the men who sang in Lutheran choirs. Evidently it was common for school boys who had graduated and whose voices had changed to continue to sing for the church as adult tenors and basses. These singers were largely professionals who were moved by musical interests and devotion to continue singing. They formed professional associations called "adjuvanten-gesellschaften" (= company of assistants) or "Kantoreien" (= body of singers). Membership fees were charged and members were entitled to elaborate music at their funerals. Rehearsals always closed with food and drink and wives were invited to these "collationes".
[...] if
Leipzig had this kind of choral guild, Bach was assured of an experienced, cultured professional body of singers -- even music-loving aristocrats were members of these associations.
[...]
Mattheson introduced women into the Hamburg cathedral choir in 1739. >
Herl's book is high on my must-read list. Thanks to Douglas Cowling for showing how much is to be gleaned from it.

Two remarks.

1) Does "professional" mean different things in English and French? Most likely. We will refer to an amateur playing or singing "comme un professionnel, à un niveau professionnel" to mean that he is practically as good as a "professionnel", implying that he is not one. A "professionnel" does not sing as a hobby; it is his main occupation, he makes a career of it and that is how he makes a living (all sorts of particular situations can of course arise: one was born a millionnaire or married into money, another one pursues two careers simultaneously).

Moreover, such a description is very inadequate when talking of the conditions in the XVIIIth century, when one was defined foremostly by the station one occupied in the social hierarchy, not by one's specialization, one's "trade". The definition of "work" has changed radically. Then a gentleman was a gentleman, a Bürger was a Bürger, no matter if they happened to paint, write or study astronomy.

I suggest we endeavour to have a sharp ear with words. The gentlemen Herl writes about may have been highly trained, proficient, expert musicians. But "professionnals"? In what sense? At any rate, the description below suggests more of a club with a membership fee than a profit-making organization. Let us read Herl!

2) From Mattheson's autobiography in his own "Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte", I understand that he had given up his duties as "director chori musici" in 1728. And the day he bravely led Madame Kayser up into the choir loft, starting the practice of women singing in the cathedral, was Sept. 17, 1716.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 16, 2006):
Raymond Joly wrote:
< 1) Does "professional" mean different things in English and French? Most likely. We will refer to an amateur playing or singing "comme un professionnel, à un niveau professionnel" to mean that he is practically as good as a "professionnel", implying that he is not one. A "professionnel" does not sing as a hobby; it is his main occupation, he makes a career of it and that is how he makes a living (all sorts of particular situations can of course arise: one was born a millionnaire or married into money, another one pursues two careers simultaneously). >
* As a noun, "a professional" usually means someone in one of the professions (i.e. lawyer, doctor, teacher) and by extension to just about any educated person in a while collar position.

As an adjective - "a professional musician" - it means someone who is paid for his/her services, in opposition to an unpaid "amateur".

< 2) From Mattheson's autobiography in his own "Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte", I understand that he had given up his duties as "director chori musici" in 1728. And the day he bravely led Madame Kayser up into the choir loft, starting the practice of women singing in the cathedral, was Sept. 17, 1716. >
* Herl doesn't give details. Perhaps the later date is the establishment of a consistent body of women singers.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 17, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Herl, J. "Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choirs, Congregation and Three Centuries of Conflict", Oxford: University Press, 2004.<<
>>One of the most interesting parts is the description of the men who sang in Lutheran choirs. Evidently it was common for school boys who had graduated and whose voices had changed to continue to sing for the church as adult tenors and basses. These singers were largely professionals who were moved by musical interests and devotion to continue singing. They formed professional associations called "adjuvanten-gesellschaften" (= company of assistants) or "Kantoreien" (= body of singers).<<
The MGG1 contains an entire article on "Adjuvantenchor" by Arno Werner (Bärenreiter, 1986) in which the following points may be of interest:

1. A "Kantorei" is the offical churcsupported choir consisting mainly of the boys from the school associated with the church and a few professional singers (probably mainly tenors and basses)who receive some sort of remuneration for their musical assistance. An "Adjuvant", however, as indicated above, is one who is not tied directly to the church, but who nevertheless possesses all the necessary musical abilities to join the official church choir(s) in an assisting capacity without remuneration.

2. Although the "Adjuvanten" choirs existed sporadically in various parts of German during times when the interest in these organizations was growing, the main activities of such groups originated and were centered in Saxony and Thuringia with only some instances where they spread northwards to reach as far as Hamburg where records for such organizations were also found.

3. In rural areas, where the "Kantoreien" were practically non-existent, the "Adjuvantenchöre" became the counterpart to the "Kantoreien" in the larger towns and villages and sang during the church services following the musical trends established by the "Kantoreien" elsewhere in more populated areas.

4. An "Adjuvantenchor" consisted of both vocalists and instrumentalists!!!

5. 1648 to 1700 was the period of greatest growth of these organizations as they adopted statutes/guidelines for their activities. In the county of Eckhartsberga there were at one time during this period 26 separate organizations of this type, but toward the north in Hamburg only one (or two?).

6. The decline of "Adjuvantenchöre" came as a result of the attitudes promulgated by Pietism and later the Enlightenment, both of which frowned upon the activities of these organizations for different reasons. Nevertheless, some of them persisted well into the late 18th century.

7. Although there are records of "Adjuvantenchöre" for larger cities such as Breslau and Hamburg (Leipzig is never mentioned specifically among the hundreds of such organizations that existed between 1648 and 1700), they remain primarily a rural manifestation where regular church choirs were more difficult to maintain.

>>And a couple of interesting notes to the history of women singing in church.... Mattheson introduced women into the Hamburg cathedral choir in 1739.<<
The latter date was corrected by Raymond Joly. Here are some other significant quotations on this matter by Mattheson:

Johann MatthesonCritica musica“ Part 8, Chapter 19, Section 18, p. 320, Hamburg, June, 1725:

A propos”, vom Frauenzimmer! Es stehet nicht zu begreiffen, warum man diesem schönen Geschlechte verbieten will, das Lob GOttes, an dem dazu gewidmeten Orte, öffentlich in seinem Munde zu führen? Sagt einer: Die Person singt in der Opera; so singen ja die Männer auch allda. Sagt der andre: Sie ist zu hübsch; so müssen nur alle artige Gesichter aus der Kirche bleiben. Sagt der dritte: Sie singt gar zu lieblich; so hat man ja Ursache, GOttes Wunder in der Menschen Stimme zu preisen u. Summa, ich bleibe noch, wie vor 12. Jahren, (biß man tüchtigere Ursachen anzeigt,) bey den Worten, die im I. Orch. p. 206. stehen: daß wir die Gaben Gottes mit Füssen treten, unter nichtigem, heuchlerischem Vorwand kein Frauenzimmer zur Kirchen=Music lassen, und den Gottesdienst also seines besten Schmucks berauben.“

„Incidentally, in regard to women, it is incomprehensible why they [the church authorities] want to forbid the fair sex from singing publicly the praises of God in the location which is dedicated to this purpose. One person [male] will say, “This woman (actress) sings at the Opera House," [then I will answer] "but there are all those men singing there too.” Another says: “She is too beautiful [in appearance]," [then I will counter with] "but this means that all beautiful females [with beautiful faces] will need to stay away from church [as well]." A third says: “She sings much too beautifully," [so then I say] “this gives us a good reason to praise the miracle of the human voice as one of God’s wonders [all the more];" and, in summary, until they come up with some better reasons [not to allow women to sing in church], I am still of the same opinion that I had expressed in the following manner 12 years ago in “Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre” part I of the “Orchestre=Schriften”, p. 206: “We are trampling on God-given gifts by not allowing women to participate in the singing of sacred cantatas [in church] because of [various] trivial and hypocritical pretexts; and thereby we are depriving [robbing] our church services of their best adornment/ornament.”

Johann MatthesonDas Neu=Eröffnete Orchestre“ from „Die drei Orchestre=Schriften I, Hamburg, 1713, Part 3, Chapter 1, §7 , p. 206-207

Zu verwundern ist / daß „Republiquen,“ welche mit weniger Mühe / als Fürstliche und König Höfe / tüchtige „Subjecta“ sich selbst „fourni“ren / nicht an der Königin aller „Republiquen,“ ich meine an dem klugen und „delicieusen Venedig“ ein löbliches und rühmliches Exempel in Anbauung dergleichen „Seminarien“ zu GOttes Ehre und der Menschen Wolgefallen / nehmen; sondern im Gegentheil die „Dona Dei“ fast mit Füssen treten / unter nichtigen / „scrupuleusen“ und heuchlerischen Vorwand kein Frauen=Zimmer zur Kirchen=“Music admitti“ren / und den Gottesdienst also des besten „Ornats“ berauben wollen. Wie lächerlich die „Raisons“ sind / so man zur Beschönung eines solchen scheinheiligen Unterlassens anzuführen pfleget / ist hie der Ort nicht zu untersuchen / sondern nur zu beklagen / daß / wenn hie und da unter uns noch einer was rechtschaffnes in der „Music“ gethan hat / derselbe solches aus Mangel einer Hervorziehung und Beforderung entweder in andere danckbare Länder tragen / oder zu Hause als ein Neben=Werck treiben / und hinter andere Sachen / die zwar wichtiger scheinen / doch bißweilen in der That weniger sind / gleichsam verstecken oder vergraben muß.“

„ It is astonishing that these republics [city-states of Italy] can supply themselves with capable female singers more easily with less effort than princely or royal courts [in Germany] and that the latter do not emulate as a praiseworthy example the very clever and splendid [City-State of] Venice, the queen of all republics, in establishing such “seminaries” [these appear to be orphanages or convent schools with special emphasis on training young women for singing and playing instruments like the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where Gasparini and later Vivaldi were in charge of musical education and performances] for the glory of God and for the pleasure of mankind; instead, to the contrary, they almost trample upon these gifts from God [beautiful female voices and musical gifts for playing instruments] by using senseless, unscrupulous, and hypocritical pretexts not to admit any females to participate in the singing [and playing] of figural music in church. By doing so, they want to rob the church service of its best ceremonial splendor. This is not the place to investigate just how silly the ‘reasons’ are which they tend to give in order to gloss over their hypocritical failure [to support the musical education and voice training of females], but rather to complain that, when anyone of us [out of the group of known composer/musicians in Germany who have attempted to remedy the situation by introducing female voices in church services] here or there has accomplished something really good in the support of [this kind of] music [using females], this individual will then either leave the country out of a lack of recognition or support and then go to countries which will be more grateful to receive him; or he will be required to engage in some secondary occupation and hide and bury himself in other, different activities which have the appearance of being more importa, but which, in reality, are less so.”

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 17, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 7. Although there are records of "Adjuvantenchöre" for larger cities such as Breslau and Hamburg (Leipzig is never mentioned specifically among the hundreds of such organizations that existed between 1648 and 1700), they remain primarily a rural manifestation where regular church choirs were more difficult to maintain. >
Is there any evidence about the men who sang for Bach? The idea of a cultured, well-educated choral guild is very appealing.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 18, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>And a couple of interesting notes to the history of women singing in church.... Mattheson introduced women
into the
Hamburg cathedral choir...<<
I am resubmitting this addition to the Mattheson quotations on 'women singing in church'. It appears that my message, probably with a few others as well, simply disappeared down a big black hole between 1:06
am and 3:53 pm today.

Johann MatthesonDer vollkommene CapellmeisterHamburg, 1739, part 3, §19, p. 482

Unter diesen Personen will das Frauenzimmer schier unentbehrlich fallen, bevorab wo man keine Verschnittene haben kan. Ich weiß, was mirs für Mühe und Verdruß gekostet hat, die Sängerinnen in der hiesigen Dom Kirche einzuführen. Anfangs wurde verlangt, ich sollte sie bey Leibe so stellen, daß sie kein Mensch zu sehen kriegte; zuletzt aber konte man sie nie genug hören und sehen. Ich weiß die Zeit, daß alle Prediger auf die Perüken schalten; nun ist keiner, der sie nicht trägt, oder billiget. So verändern sich die Meinungen. Doch auf unsern andern Stadt-Chören will es sich hier noch nicht mit dem
weiblichen Geschlechte thun lassen
.“

“Among these choir members [individuals selected to sing in the choir], women are practically indispensable, unless, of course, you are able to obtain castrati [to fill these positions in the choir] instead. I know just how much effort and annoyance it caused me to introduce female singers into the cathedral choir [in Hamburg]. At first they demanded that I should, if at all possible, place them in such a way that no one could see them; finally, however, they could not get enough of hearing and seeing them [perform]. I remember the time when pastors/preachers criticized the wearing of wigs, but now there are none that do no wear them or allow them to be worn. This is how views on certain matters can [quickly] change. And yet it is still not possible for women to sing in our other churches [of Hamburg].”

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 18, 2006):
Philipp Spitta “Johann Sebastian Bach”, Dover, 1951, 1979 Vol. 1 (Translation Clara Bell and J. A. Fuller-Maitland) This represents Bach scholarship from 1880

HIS [JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH’s] DUTIES AT ARNSTADT.
p.225
Next to the Franciscan or Upper Church, the New Church occupied the second place. It had been originally built as a chapel-of-ease to the former, because the Liebfrauenkirche was found to be inadequate to the enlarged demands, and there was no room for the large number of Sunday church-goers.

Since Sebastian, in spite of his youth, had taken his place as a musician of many-sided learning, who, moreover, had organized practices of choral music in Lüneburg, the Consistory handed over to him the tuition of a small school-choir, which served, as it were, for the stepping-stone to the larger choir that sang in the Upper Church ; and with the latter were amalgamated, according to the old Thuringian custom, the “Adjuvanten,” or music-loving amateurs of the town. The actual direction, which in the main choir was the task of the cantor, was here the duty of the prefect of the school-choir. Bach had only to rehearse them, to keep the whole together, and to accompany them on the organ. It may be supposed that with these opportunities he would bring his own compositions to a hearing. Finally, it may be assumed with certainty that his violin-playing was occasionally taken advantage of for the Count's band ; although historical testimony is wanting, Sebastian could no more have escaped these demands than could Michael Bach in his day, who must have come in from Gehren expressly on stated occasions.

p. 226
Since the band consisted chiefly of native musicians, professional or amateur, it would have been foolish to leave such a remarkable talent unused.

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH. p. 308
The vocal part of the church music was performed by boys and men. In Thuringia and other districts of central Germany the church choirs were strengthened by so-called "Adjuvanten," or assistants—i.e., amateurs from the neighborhood, who voluntarily took part in the performances. In Leipzig this custom seems not to have obtained to the same extent; we find it once mentioned that in Kuhnau's time an " advocate in law " had frequently accompanied the church music on the organ. The Collegia Musica, under the direction of Schott, Bach, and Görner, consisted almost exclusively of students, who certainly must have taken part in the church music. The solos for soprano and alto were given, as a rule, to the boys of the Thomasschule choir. In the case of pieces composed by Bach himself, their performance was no easy task, for in his arias, as is well known, great demands are generally made on flexibility of voice, and the art of taking breath ; a boy's voice rarely lasts long enough for him to acquire a thorough technical education. His singers are said, indeed, often to have complained of the difficulty of this music. Still, it may be pointed out that a certain skill in technique was at that time more common than at present ; it was in the air, so to speak, so that it would be more easily acquired. During all that period the Italian art of song was in full bloom and was known and admired throughout Germany. Little as the German school-choirs were capable of turning this art to account in its entirety, yet a certain superficial brilliancy found its way among them, and with some degree of success.

Arnold Schering “Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger KirchenmusikLeipzig, 1936. p. 19

die Überzähligen (Supernumerarii) (studentische Ersatzstimmen, noch nicht Brauchbare, Funktionäre beim Schuldienst.“ („additional available singers and instrumentalists“ the ‚supernumeraries’ OED: “spec. applied to an individual, officer, or employee not formally belonging to the regular body or a staff but associated with it in case of need or emergency,” students used to replace missing voices or instrumental positions in the orchestra, or those not yet usable (in a solo capacity), officials from the school staff”)

p. 39
Daß in Leipzigs Kirchen bis 1800 und darüber hinaus niemals Sängerinnen aufgetreten sind, steht fest und bedarf keines weiteren Beweises.“

(„Female singers never sang in the churches of Leipzig until 1800 or later. This is a solid fact and there is no need to supply any additional proof for this.”)

p. 40-41
Bachs Leipziger Vokalmusik ist keineswegs für den Thomanerchor allein bestimmt gewesen. Ein gut Teil vielmehr, darunter das meiste von weltlichem Charakter, gehörte von Anfang an den S t u d e n t e n der Universität, also Jünglingen und ausgewachsenen Männern. Wer heute Chöre für solche schreibt, setzt sie natürlich in der Weise des „Männerchors“, d. h. teilt, um einen vierstimmigen Satz zu gewinnen, Tenöre und Bässe in je zwei Gruppen. Bach hat nichts dergleichen. Seine „Männerchöre“ bestehen ebenso aus Sopranen, Alten, Tenören und Bässen wie jeder andere seiner Chorsätze. „Gemischt“ darf man sie nur insofern nennen, als für die hohen Stimmen Falsettisten, für die tiefen gewöhnliche Tenöre und Bässe eintraten.

Von den beiden damals bestehenden „Collegia musica“ leitete Bach das ehemals von
Telemann begründete, und zwar während der Jahre 1729-1739. Die jungen Leute kamen allwöchentlich zweimal in Zimmermanns Wirtshaus zusammen und machten teils im Freien, teils in der Gaststube gegen geringes Entgelt Musik. Das Publikum bildeten Leipziger Bürger und Meßfremde, von denen man wußte, daß sie an derlei Veranstaltungen besondere Freude empfanden. Die Leitung führte Bach im Auftrage der Studierenden, deren viele seine Schüler gewesen waren. Unentgeltlich hat er es sicherlich getan. Wahrscheinlich empfing er jedes Mal vom Kaffetier Zimmermann eine Entschädigung, sei es in Geld, sei es in Gestalt eines Köstgens“. Jedenfalls legte er, wenn er mit seinen erwachsenen Söhnen in der Gaststube erschien, die Würde and Befugnisse des Kantors und Musikdirektors ab, um auf zwei Stunden einer andern Welt, der studentischen und bürgerlichen Geselligkeit anzugehören.

An diesen Aufführungen bei Trunk und Tabak, gleichgültig ob sie im Kaffeehause oder als Nachtmusik auf Markt oder Straße stattfanden, sind allezeit nur S t u d e n t e n beteiligt gewesen. Es waren rein akademische Musiken, bei denen die Thomaner nichts zu suchen hatten. Abgesehen davon, daß nirgends auch nur die leiseste Andeutung ihrer Mitwirkung vorkommt, wäre unverständlich, wer sie dazu hätte verpflichten sollen. Bach selbst besaß keine Befugnis, und eine Beteiligung des Chors an Aufgaben, die außerhalb der Schulordnung lagen, war an und für sich verboten. Soweit immer sich die Geschichte der Leipziger „Collegia musica“ nach rück= oder vorwärts überblicken lässt, niemals hat sich ein Zeichen gemeinsamen Musizierens mit dem Schülerchor feststellen lassen.

Gilt dies aber, dann steht fest, daß die Sopran= und Altpartien der weltlichen Chorkantaten Bachs von Studenten, d. h. von Fistulanten gesungen worden sind. Das überrascht nicht. Die Kunst des Falsettgesangs war alt und scheint in deutschen Studentenkreisen von je geübt worden zu sein. Er entsprach einem bestimmten Gesangsideal der Zeit und ersetzte, solistische ausgeführt, in den Ländern, die das Kastratenwesen verabscheuten, den Kastratengesang. Beide standen gerade zu Bachs Zeit in Deutschland insofern in gewissem Wettbewerb, als katholische Höfe, wie der Dresdener und der Münchener, welsche Kastraten liebten, in der bürgerlichen Musikübung dagegen Falsettisten auftraten. Die Oper Hamburgs und Leipzigs ist ohne Falsettisten nicht ausgekommen. Ebensowenig das „Collegium musicum“ irgendeiner Universitätsstadt. Als Melchior Hoffmann das ehemals Telemannische „Collegium“ leitete (1707), bestand ein „gemischtes Männerquartett“ („Singechor“ genannt“) aus folgenden Männern: dem späteren fürstlich Eisenachischen Kammerrat Langmasius als Baß, dem späteren fürstlich Eisenachischen Sekretär und Dichter Helbig als Tenor, dem nachmaligen Weimarer Kammmermusikus Krone als Kontraalt, dem späteren Augsburger Konrektor Marckgraf als Sopran, - nach Ausweise der Leipziger Universitätsmatrikel lauter Studenten. Und noch um vieles später hat
Telemann einen gewissen Schneider (vielleicht den nachmals als Schüler Bachs bekannt gewordenen Nikolaiorganisten) als „einen der besten Altisten“ gerühmt. Unter Bach kann es nicht anders gewesen sein.

(„In no way did Bach compose his vocal music in Leipzig only for the Thomanerchor. On the contrary, a good portion of it (of a secular nature) was conceived and composed at first with the students at the university in mind. Among these were young but also mature men. Anybody today who would compose choruses for a group of this type would naturally provide settings for a ‘male chorus’, i.e., he would separate the tenors and basses into two groups in order to obtain a 4-pt. composition, but Bach does have anything like that. His ‘male choruses’ also consist of parts using sopranos, altos, tenors and basses just like any of his other compositions for chorus. These can only be called “Mixed choruses” if you understand that the two high voices were sung by falsettists and the usual tenors and basses sang the lower parts.

Of the two existing “Collegia musica” in Leipzig at that time, Bach, from 1729 to 1739, conducted the one originally founded by Telemann. These young people [primarily students] met twice weekly in Zimmermann’s Inn/Coffee House to perform music there or outside [in the adjoining garden area] for very little remuneration. The listening public consisted of Leipzig citizens and those who came to Leipzig for the Leipzig Fair. These were individuals who took special pleasure in attending these concerts. It was Bach’s job to conduct these concerts for these student musicians, many of whom had been Bach’s pupils/students. Each time Bach probably received from Zimmermann, the café proprietor, compensation in the form of either some money or something special to eat or drink [or both]. In any case Bach put aside all the dignity and obligations of his official duties as cantor and music director of the major Leipzig churches whenever he appeared with his sons at the inn. Then, for two hours, he would belong to a different world, experiencing the social atmosphere offered by the company of students and citizens.

Only students participated as singers and instrumentalists in these performances whether they were given in the coffee house accompanied by drinking [coffee and alcoholic beverages] and tobacco or as a serenade at night in the marketplace or on a street. These were concerts given by university students and the Thomaner pupils had no business being involved in any way. Disregarding the fact that not even the slightest hint that Thomaner pupils might have been involved has ever been uncovered, it would hard to understand who would have the authority to obligate them to participate in these concerts. Bach himself did not possess such a power, and, strictly speaking, any participation by the Thomanerchor in activities not included in the school statutes would be forbidden. No matter how you look into the past before Bach’s time or even after Bach’s death, there is never any indication that the “Collegia musica” ever performed together with the Thomanerchor.

If this is true, then it is certain that the soprano and alto parts of Bach’s secular cantatas were sung by male university students, i.e. falsettists. This is not surprising. The art of falsetto singing was part of an old, long-standing tradition among German university student groups. It corresponded/agreed with a specific ideal way of singing of that period in that it replaced the singing of solos by castrati in those countries/regions which abhorred every aspect of a castrato’s existence or even hearing anyone sing like one. Both types of singing, just at the time when Bach lived in Germany, were in competition with each other: on the one hand, the Catholic courts, like the ones in Dresden and Munich, just loved the Italian castrati while the middle-class citizens opposed them in their musical practices. The opera houses of Hamburg and Leipzig would never have survived without employing falsettists. The same is true for the “Collegium musicum” of any university city. When Melchior Hoffmann conducted the former Telemann – ‘Collegium’ (1707), there was a ‘mixed male quartet’ (called “Singing Choir”) consisting of the following men: 1) Bass – Langmasius, who later became privy councilor to the prince in Eisenach; 2) Tenor – Helbig, later poet and secretary to the prince in Eisenach; 3) Contralto – Krone, later a chamber musician at the court in Weimar; 4) Soprano - Margrave, later deputy headmaster in Augsburg; all of these individuals are listed as enrolled at the University of Leipzig. Much later Telemann praised, as being one of the best altos, a certain Schneider (who may later have been Bach’s pupil and later yet assumed the position of organist at St. Nicholas Church). The situation will not have been any different when Bach took charge of the “Collegium musicum”. “)

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< If this is true, then it is certain that the soprano and alto parts of Bach¹s secular cantatas were sung by male university students, i.e. falsettists. This is not surprising. The art of falsetto singing was part of an old, long-standing tradition among German university student groups. >
Definitely a minority opinion!

Thanks for the references, Thomas. It would really be interesting to have more details about Bach's adult singers.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 18, 2006):
"Adjuvantenchöre"

Summary translation of the MGG1 (Bärenreiter, 1986) article on „Adjuvanten“ by Arno Werner:

A “choir of ‘Adjuvants’” [“Adjuvantenchor”] is the term given to a group of musically knowledgeable singers who assisted the schoolmaster or the cantor in the villages and towns of Saxony and Thuringia. They consisted of both singers and instrumentalists. As early as the first decades of the 17th century, there was such a surprising explosion of musical interest and abilities issuing from the Evangelical Latin schools, high schools [“Gymnasien”] and universities, that even in the villages of Middle Germany there were musically knowledgeable theologians (who only later would attain the position of a pastor) who, as school masters could present compositions (some of their own as well) of 4 to 8 parts sung by men and boys during the church services. This was the only real church music at that time (no cantatas) and these native theologians were counted among the most revered composers who composed music for these “Adjuvanten” choirs as well as the regular church choirs. To this group of theologian composers belonged Michael Altenburg, Bodenschatz, Dilherr, Helder, Leißring, Quitschreiber, Rinckart, Schneegaß and Thüring. However, more than 20 years of war almost completely destroyed this blossoming musical tradition. The declaration of peace after the retreat of the Swedish army in the summer of 1650 saw a new age of music-making replacing the old, serious, and very solemn type which existed in the form of polyphonic motets and chorale-based music using the old church modes. The pioneers of the progressive movement, with the organist out in front, emphasized a more lively movement, softer musical lines, greater use of major and minor keys with preference for chordal treatment of melodies, a continuo accompaniment, more music for one or two voices only, dramatic treatment of the text, the use of sinfonias (orchestral introductions) and ritornelli, in short, all that is understood as concerted music. This ideal was pursued not only by 28 court chapels, but as well as by 137 “Kantoreien” (official church choirs) and their rural counterparts, the “Adjuvantenchöre”. The latter groups, as the sole cultural organizations in villages and small towns, attempted to capture the last rays of splendor emanating from dazzling Baroque music composed and performed elsewhere by providing “Turmmusik” (brass music played from city and church towers at certain times of the day), choral as well as solo singing, combined with the playing of instruments and the organ. An example of the type and richness of musical performances in 1650 in many villages after peace was declared is found, for instance, in a village near Eisenach, Wenigenlupnitz. One song of gratitude after another in chorale form and as figural music was performed from the church tower and from on top of the bakery using also trumpets and violins, the latter having been purchased especially for these activities. They also supported the singing during the following church service. Once again, with the sound of trumpets from the church tower, the observance reached its conclusion. Beginning in the years following 1648 until 1700, more and more of these loosely organized groups of musicians became more organized and began establishing their goals and objectives and setting up rules and regulations for membership. This period saw the greatest number of these organizations appear and continue to flourish. While their number grew phenomenally (there were hundreds of them) in Saxony and Thuringia, their number diminished considerably to the north of these country-states. In one county alone, Eckartsberga, there were 26 of these “Kollegia” (das Kollegium = a group of persons having certain abilities in common). In the Duchy of Saxony-Eisenach, village children who had good, clear voices were required upon the recommendation of the school master to ‘learn music.’ Those who would later play an instrument were required to pay him 2 Taler tuition money for attaining mastery over an instrument (they would recoup these losses later when they became “Adjuvanten”.) The most sought-after title in these “Adjuvanten”-organizations was that of “Adjuvant chori musici” (the leader/conductor of the musical ‘Adjuvant’ choirs – this included the instrumental choirs as well). This title/position could only be granted after passing successfully an examination of musical abilities and when judged to have an impeccable moral record. The men sang the bass and tenor parts and using their falsetto voices they covered the alto part as well. The boys (non-'Adjuvanten') from the schoolmaster's choir sang the soprano part and only when absolutely necessary the alto part as needed. In many instances the actual number of “Adjuvanten” in a vocal choir was only between 5 to 8 [the singers from the boys’ choir were not considered “Adjuvanten” ] In the village/town of Ruhla in 1710 there were 21 men singing as “Adjuvanten”. In 1797 Mosbach had 20 singers and 9 instrumentalists. In the cities in the last 3rd of the 16th century, people generally at first preferred the official town pipers with their loud brass instruments, but after 1600 the citizens turned their preference to the more expressive sound of string instruments. These instruments were also given greater priority by the "Adjuvantenchöre", but also along with shawms, zinks and flutes divided into special choirs of instruments. Later the soft oboe was added and later yet in the 18th century, the clarinet. Following a royal decree of the emperor, the sovereigns also forbade the use of trumpets and timpani “because these were reserved for use by princes and potentates”. The latter decree also forbade anyone (except those musicians legitimately assigned to do so) to play (“Wald”)horns and trombones in a ‘trumpet-like’ manner (“schmetternd”). During the Enlightenment these restrictions were dropped.

From 1650 until well into the 19th century, the time when cantatas flourished, these rural music masters not only performed but also composed their own music. In this they controlled the field (there is, however, no comparison intended here with the greatness of Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, and others composing in the style of the great masters who were miles apart from this type of composing and performing taking place in rural regions). The “Adjuvantenchöre” were not interested in performing Bach (assuming that they could even obtain copies of Bach’s compositions)

Their interest lay more with compositions exhibiting more chordal harmonies with only hints of polyphony. They sang and played works by J. Rud, J. Georg Ahle, Briegel, Hammerschmidt, Schein, Telemann, Ph.E. Bach, Doles, Hiller, Römhild, Rolle, Romberg, Chr.G. Tag, Vierling, Weinlig and Weiske. In their repertoires were also some examples of South German compositions from the primarily Catholic regions: Zumsteeg, Haydn and Mozart.

The musical activities of the "Adjuvantenchöre" were reguldevoted to providing music for church services every Sunday or every other Sunday, weddings, funerals, and 'walking around singing' (“Singumgang” – ‘caroling’?) in the days following New Years (a shameful way of collecting monies for the poorly-paid school master).

The growing popularity of the “Adjuvantenchöre” during the latter half of the 17th century came under attack from two fronts beginning around 1690 when Pietism, an enemy of the musical arts, began to affect the need for musical embellishment. The rural population hat little interest in Pietism, but it was the landed gentry and numerous groups related to or connected with the court or palace which set the tone in the villages as well. Important people and families retreated from attending services in the rural churches and preferred spending their devotional hours in the stillness of their homes. They no longer asked for special music to be performed for their weddings and funerals. The idea of saving money this way began to appeal to the village residents and the farmers as well. Processions and festivals were prohibited and very long periods of mourning for deceased members of the princely houses with the absence of all kinds of public music-making were decreed. These bans were disastrous for the vocal choirs, but particularly for the instrumentalists, whose main source of incomesimply evaporated. The time of Rationalism and Enlightenment which soon followed Pietism delivered the final blow to the “Adjuvantenchöre”. This was now a time which had nothing but contempt and ridicule for those who supported church music which still made use of the older style cantatas composed by second-rate composers. The “Adjuvantenchöre” were unable to incorporate the advances made in secular music such as those represented by the Berlin school/method of song-making [“Berliner Liederschule”]. After the Napoleonic wars, a new threat to the "Adjuvantenchöre" came in the form of other [much larger] singing groups such as the “Singakademien, Singgesellschaften” and secular male choruses. Some attempts with only minor success were made to save some of the “Adjuvantenchöre” in Saxony in 1827 and 1834 as well as later yet in Thuringia. The continuing move toward materialism during the 19th century began changing here and there the original purpose of these rural, village choirs. Mixed choruses became either children’s choirs or male choruses which served both in a sacred and secular capacity. The remainder of the Adjuvantenchöre in Thuringia continued some of the old traditions still singing works (cantatas) by Zumsteeg, but now without the accompaniment of any instruments since instrumentalists no longer belonged to these groups. These "Adjuvantenchöre" then sank into the morass of Romanticism with many poorly composed works. At the beginning of the 20th century, these village choirs improved the quality of the works they presented by making use of the practical editions of the “Neue Bachgesellschaft”. They were supported in their efforts by other groups within the church. Today (1986) there are still 40 groups that still function under the name of “Adjuvantenchor”. They serve in preserving the old forms of church liturgy.

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 18, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The "Adjuvantenchöre" were not interested in performing Bach (assuming that > they could even obtain copies of Bach¹s compositions). Their interest lay more with compositions exhibiting > more chordal harmonies with only hints of polyphony. They sang and played works by J. Rud, J. Georg Ahle, Briegel, Hammerschmidt, Schein, Telemann, Ph.E. Bach, Doles, Hiller, Römhild, Rolle, Romberg, Chr.G. Tag, Vierling, Weinlig and Weiske. In their repertoires were also some examples of South German compositions from the primarily Catholic regions: Zumsteeg, Haydn and Mozart. >
Fascinating material but the repertoire is hardly country bumpkin music! Why the distinction bewteen Bach and Telemann, Schein, Haydn and Mozart?

We still appararently don't have documentary record of who Bach's adult men singers were.

Rick Canyon wrote (August 26, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< One of the most interesting parts is the description of the men who sang in Lutheran choirs. Evidently it was common for school boys who had graduated and whose voices had changed to continue to sing for the church as adult tenors and basses. These singers were largely professionals who were moved by musical interests and devotion to continue singing. They formed professional associations called "adjuvanten-gesellschaften" (= company of assistants) or "Kantoreien" (= body of singers). >
I hope this doesn't come across as too disjointed.

I don't pretend to have this wealth of knowledge regarding the structure and/or policies within boychoirs, but...

Looking at 3 of the most prominent, Vienna, Tolz, and the Thomanerchor, it seems that the first two have a sort of auxiliary tenor/bass men's choir working in close contact with the boys. Indeed, the "Chorus Viennensis" (does it still exist?) is described (in the liner notes to the 1967 Harnoncourt Mass in b (BWV 232)) as consisting "exclusively of former 'sängerknaben' who continue here their choral activities, begun as sopranos or altos, as men's voices."

And later, these same notes state, "Bach's St. Thomas Choir was similarly composed of boys and youths whose voices had broken from the same school."

Except 'similarly' doesn't come across to me as accurate. The images I've seen of the 'Chorus Viennensis' and the tenor/bass choir of the Tolzers seem to show mostly mature adult men. This would appear then to be somewhat in line with Doug's "professional associations" post.

On the other hand, the TC's tenor/bass is provided by actual school students, which, if I understand correctly, was the way the TC was structured during Bach's time (tho now instead of having 2-3 voices per part on a good day, it's more like 15). I appreciate, too, that in Bach's time, Thomasschule students could easily be in the 21-22 year-old age range. But, with the later voice changes of the time, etc., I'm assuming all of this to be relative.

While I'm not one who criticises, those that do seem to cite this lack of an adult bass sound as, at the very least, something 'one must get used to' with the TC. Yet, didn't Bach, then, have this same situation to deal with? Perhaps at Zimmermann's he could use more mature voices from the University. Perhaps there, he could even use women. But, in the Leipzig churches was he not limited by rules? Wouldn't this also mean he then had to use student tenors/basses as soloists? (I have wondered if for the 1736 performance of the SMP (BWV 244)--if you accept that it was not a OVPP performance--there may have been adult tenors/basses augmenting the students).

And, as a general question, I'm wondering how long it takes a changing voice to stabilize? Must one take a year or two off from singing while a tenor or bass voice develops? Or, can it happen virtually overnight? As I recall from the Panito Iconoumou interview, he said he went thru a period where his voice dropped about a note a week.

Thanks.

Eric Bergerud wrote (August 26, 2006):
[To Rick Canyon] I have a couple of DVD's from Cleobury (and Goodman): Messiah and SMP (BWV 244). Both are nice. Anyway, the Kings Choir has a lot of trebles but I'd guess half it's members are young men. Not really easy to tell the age, but I'd guess late teens, maybe early 20's. Cleobury does use adult soloists for the major arias but his choir his very active and the young men sing very well. I don't really understand thedifference between the English and European approaches to boys choirs, but they do seem to sound different and I'd give my humble thumbs up to the English.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 26, 2006):
Canyon Rick wrote:
Whatever Doug Cowling had stated as pointing to adult tenors and basses joining regular church choirs normally consisting of boys from the church associated school:

DC: >>One of the most interesting parts is the description of the men who sang in Lutheran choirs. Evidently it was common for school boys who had graduated and whose voices had changed to continue to sing for the church as adult tenors and basses. These singers were largely professionals who were moved by musical interests and devotion to continue singing. They formed professional associations called "adjuvanten-gesellschaften" (= company of assistants) or "Kantoreien" (= body of singers).<<

does not apply to the Thomanerchor. There is absolutely no evidence for the formal, actual existence of such an organization during Bach’s tenure in Leipzig. These young, adult singers were most often associated with Bach’s performances because they were enrolled in the University of Leipzig and possibly also took private music lessons from Bach as well.

Here is a clear example based on Bach’s personal recommendation of his son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnickol (baptized within a few days of his birth on Jan. 1, 1720.) He attended the Lyceum in Lauban, not the St. Thomas School of Leipzig. He had been a substitute organist and a member of the choir at St. Maria Magdalena in Breslau. On March 19, 1744, he enrolled at the University of Leipzig, but did not join Bach’s primary choir until Michalmas of 1745, after which time he assisted continuously with the performances given by the Thomanerchor as Bach put it:
“I personally attest with this letter of recommendation that Johann Christoph Altnickol, has assisted continuously with the performances given by the primary choir [Thomanerchor], sometimes as a violist, sometimes as a violoncellist, but mainly as a “Vocal-Bassiste” (“bass singer”). In the latter capacity he compensated for the lack of bass singers which is a perpetual condition here at St. Thomas School because the boys graduate before their voices can reach full maturity.” May 25, 1747 Joh. Sebast: Bach”

Altnickol was 25 when he began singing (and playing) under Bach’s direction in Leipzig’s major churches and 27 years old when this letter was written.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 26, 2006):
Another documented instance of an adult male singer (tenor or bass?) is that of Bernhard Dieterich Ludewig, (1707-1740) who attended the Gymnasium (“high school”) in Altenburg and later enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1731. Bach wrote a letter of recommendation for him dated October 10, 1737. Ludewig would have been 24 years old if Bach had used his musical talents immediately when Ludewig arrived in Leipzig. It is more likely that at least a year or two would have passed before this would have happened. It would be reasonable to assume that from age 25 to 30 Ludewig would have performed under Bach’s direction both in a singing and also playing capacity. [Could Ludewig, at age 29 have sung the Evangelist part in the revised SMP (BWV 244) or the famous bass solos?] As Bach puts this in his letter, Ludewig had requested Bach: “wegen…geleisteter ‘assistence’ derer Kirchen und anderer “Musiquen’ so wohl ‘vocaliter’ als ‚instrumentaliter’ ein beglaubtes ‚attestat’ zu ertheilen… (“to certify formally his accomplishments in assisting Bach both in a vocal but also instrumental capacity in his performances in the churches [Thomanerchor] and elsewhere [Collegium musicum]”). Later in the same letter (in the same sentence which is 81 words long!), Bach lauds Ludewig’s musical “Geschickligkeit” (“skill”) which has given Bach “vieles Vergnügen” (“much pleasure”).

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 26, 2006):
Christoph Gottlob Wecker (1700-1774) is the subject of Bach’s letter to the City Council of Chemnitz (letter signed and dated by Bach: Leipzig, February 26, 1727). Bach places before the council a formal request for Wecker to be allowed to audition for a vacant post. Wecker, the son of an organist in Friedersdorf near Lauban (Silesia), attended high school in Bautzen and later enrolled at the University of Leipzig on December 15, 1723. During his five years of study at the university, he served as a performing musician under Bach’s direction while at the same time held a position in Görner’s Collegium musicum (in the latter group he usually played the flute). He is documented as having studied music privately with Bach. On January 23, 1729, Wecker applied for the position of cantor at the Trinity Church in Schweidnitz and received the call to that position on March 31, 1729, a position which he held for the rest of his life. Very likely Wecker had asked Bach for the performing parts to a Passion which Bach had in his possession for in a letter (dated and signed, Leipzig March 20, 1729) that accompanied a recommendation of Wecker to the authorities in Schweidnitz, Bach refers to his inability to supply this music simply identified as “Passions Musique” which might have been an early version of the SMP (BWV 244), or perhaps R. Keiser’s St. Mark Passion. In the separate letter of recommendation (same date as above), Bach points to his ‘well-versed’ (“wohl versiret”) abilities [here imply great skill and much experience] in playing instruments as well as singing. Bach goes on to explain: “…for this reason he as been able to provide praiseworthy assistance in musical performances that have taken place in my churches as well as elsewhere. Judging from the dates recorded, Wecker must have been at least 24, perhaps even 25 years old, when he began performing with the Thomanerchor in Leipzig under Bach’s direction, and it is very likely that he continued to do so until he was 28 or 29 years old. There is no doubt that he would have sung either tenor or bass in the cantata performances. Try to imagine this young man’s musical experience during the key years when Bach was composing his cantata cycles!

Douglas Cowling wrote (August 27, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Whatever Doug Cowling had stated as pointing to adult tenors and basses joining regular church choirs normally consisting of boys from the church associated school:
DC: >>One of the most interesting parts is the description of the men who sang in Lutheran choirs. Evidently it was common for school boys who had graduated and whose voices had changed to continue to sing for the church as adult tenors and basses. These singers were largely professionals who were moved by musical interests and devotion to continue singing. They formed professional associations called "adjuvanten-gesellschaften" (= company of assistants) or "Kantoreien" (= body of singers).<<
does not apply to the Thomanerchor. There is absolutely no evidence for the formal, actual existence of such an organization during Bach¹s tenure in
Leipzig. These young, adult singers were most often associated with Bach¹s performances because they were enrolled in the University of Leipzig and possibly also took private music lessons from Bach as well. >
Hang on. You've misrepresented what I said.

I asked if there was any evidence that Bach's adult male singers had banded together as a formal guild of singers, thus providing Bach with a consistent body of well-trained singers, as was common in other German cities.

I would like to see the evidence which tells us that Bach drew his singers from University volunteers or from the student body.

And frankly, Thom, you can lose the attitude and start phrasing your postings with greater courtesy. The question of Bach's singers is clearly an area where the evidence is slight and where we should allow some speculation in the discussion. Slamming your rhetorical fist down with "absolutely" is just rude, and especially risible as you go on to fantasize about Bach giving private lessons.

Neil Mason wrote (August 27, 2006):
< And, as a general question, I'm wondering how long it takes a changing voice to stabilize? Must one take a year or two off from singing while a tenor or bass voice develops? Or, can it happen virtually overnight? As I recall from the Panito Iconoumou interview, he said he went thru a period where his voice dropped about a note a week. >
The amount of time a changing voice takes to stabilise varies from person to person, but in general the more technique the individual has before changing, then the more stable the voice through the change.

It is definitely not the case that singers need to take time off singing while this process happens. Thirty years ago it was common advice to stop singing but not nowadays. The changing voice is of course due to the (gradual) growth of the larnyx, and the surrounding musculature does lag behind a bit in gaining the extra strength needed to support the bigger voice. Therefore with all singers one can expect a little instability.

The comment that a voice drops about a note a week is intriguing. It does ring true in a general sense, but in my experience with teenage singing students voices seem to drop about a minor third at a time. I don't know why that is, but this observation is confirmed by others in my singing teachers' association.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 27, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Hang on. You've misrepresented what I said.<<
Then let us try again to see what you were trying to ask and say.

Without looking back at this thread for details that may have been misconstrued, I seem to remember that you were quoting/commenting from a new book which treats, among other things, the question of Kantoreien and Adjuvantenchöre. The article I shared from the MGG1 on “Adjuvantenchöre” cleared up the vagueness left by you and the author of that book in regard to the following:

1.) Kantoreien and Adjuvantenchöre are separate entities/organizations, the Kantoreien being city and/or church and church-school supported (supplying boys as singers in church, including figural music which is of concern to this discussion), while the Adjuvantenchöre consisting of adults who were either alumni from such schools where singing had been taught or who were professionals (lawyers, etc. for whom singing was an avocation) who lived in the same city, town, or village.

2). The rules governing the Kantoreien were spelled out by the city, town, and/or church officials; the Adjuvantenchöre governed themselves with their own set of statutes, goals, fees, etc.

3. The main purpose of the Adjuvantenchöre was to aid the Kantoreien which most often lacked (or lacked sufficient numbers of) tenors and basses; however, the Adjuvantenchöre were capable of singing 4-pt. music including Descant/Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. Not until after Bach’s lifetime did some Adjuvantenchöre turn into ‘Mixed’ or ‘Male Choruses.’ There is no mention of any females participating in the Adjuvantenchöre before 1750. They developed their own set of preferences in their repertoires and did not sing works as difficult as Bach’s cantatas.

4. There is evidence that Adjuvantenchöre existed in a few larger cities, but Leipzig was not one of them, at least not from 1723-1750.

5. In many small towns and villages, the Adjuvantenchöre served in place of non-existent Kantoreien. [It would appear that these small rural churches either did not have a church-related school, or the school was so small that they could not provide sufficient voices to constitute a choir.]

Doug Cowling: >>I asked if there was any evidence that Bach's adult male singers had banded together as a formal guild of singers, thus providing Bach with a consistent body of well-trained singers, as was common in other German cities.<<
There is no evidence whatsoever (I am asking anyone who does have such evidence to kindly post it to the BCML for study) that such a ‘formal guild of singers’ [like the Adjuvantenchöre described above] existed during Bach’s tenure in Leipzig.

Doug Cowling: >>I would like to see the evidence which tells us that Bach drew his singers from University volunteers or from the student body.<<
I have given solid evidence of this based on Bach’s own documentary evidence:

The young men that I reported on

a) were not graduates of the St. Thomas School in Leipzig, but rather came from elsewhere to attend the University of Leipzig

b) fulfilled a great need for bass voices, a continuing lack of mature bass voices in the Thomanerchor, a fact which Bach personally mentions in regard to one of the subjects

c) were generally between 25 to 30 years of age

d) in addition to being enrolled at the University of Leipzig, also may have taken private music lessons from Bach

Doug Cowling: >>The question of Bach's singers is clearly an area where the evidence is slight and where we should allow some speculation in the discussion.<<
Being faced with evidence taken directly from Bach’s personal letters of recommendation [did you read the reports I gave on Altnickol, Ludewig, and Wecker?], you are welcome to hold this opinion and speculate otherwise.

Rick Canyon wrote (August 28, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Hang on. You've misrepresented what I said.<<
In all honesty, I did not feel mislead by Doug's post. What I was looking for was a clarification on the way the Thomanerchor was structured compared to other choirs. And since the TC was Bach's choir...

I sense that while Bach may have been able to find men to sing bass at times (I would certainly not consider a 26-27 year-old to be a boy, even allowing for later changes of voice; but why stop there? couldn't he have then brought in adult falsettists for, perhaps, alto roles?), there may well have been times when he was, indeed, forced to use less mature voices for his tenor/bass.

Which, in turn, raises this question about the cantata cycles: did this variance of quality among his singers cause him to tailor these cycles so that, for example, on the 4th Sunday of Trinity, he would have a cantata available that would best suit his current group of singers? So, if he did have a fine bass, he could program a work that spotlit the bass. If, however, on the next Trinity4, that bass was gone, he could pull up a cantata which might not require a strong bass presence.

I hope I'm not sounding too naive, but, as I recall, Wolff (I think) makes some statements regarding Bach's penchant for built-in flexibility with church music. I would think Bach's mind would have been somewhat at ease knowing he had, at least, five (more, if you count other composers) cantatas to chose from each Sunday.

Thanks.

PS...factoids (exactly as they appeared on-screen) about Bach on the classical music channel on my cable system:
"During his 25 years in Leipzig, Bach worked as the music director at the local church."
"In 1720 JS Bach found his wife dead, but married Anna Magdalena Wilke the next year."
"JS Bach was accused of fooling around with a chamber maid in the church wine cellar during sermons."

Julian Mincham wrote (August 28, 2006):
Rick Canyon wrote:
< I hope I'm not sounding too naive, but, as I recall, Wolff (I think) makes some statements regarding Bach's penchant for built-in flexibility with church music. I would think Bach's mind would have been somewhat at ease knowing he had, at least, five (more, if you count other composers) cantatas to chose from each Sunday. >
I don't think it naive. If Bach did complete five cycles as stated in the Obituary, it would seem that the three best reasons might have been1 to pcantatas for those Sundays in which, in certain years, no work was required (but this could not have been the main reason or else he could have simply made good the omissions rather than composing further whole cycles)

2 for flexibility of availability of performers, as you suggest.

3 in order that he avoided boring himself by performing the same works year after year. I guess this might well have been a good explanation--Bach repeated himself very little in his compositions. From this I think it fair to assume that he didn't like to repeat himself too much in the matter of performances too.

Eric Bergerud wrote (August 28, 2006):
[To Rick Canyon] Unfortunately if Parrot's Essential Bach Choir is any judge, we are going on factoids to answer the questions you raise. The issue of whether Bach altered his cycle to singers at hand has come up on the list but we are not exactly certain when each work was first performed. As the core of his choir were students or presumably relatively long term volunteers, one would think Bach would have had some idea of who he had to compose for some months in advance. Some authors have raised the possibility that some works, such as BWV 51, were composed for exceptionally gifted singers. We don't know, but it makes sense that Bach would have used them when he had them. The problem, of course, is that Bach wanted to be and was a highly respected member of the German musical fraternity. He could not possibly of thought of himself as a famous person like Beethoven or later composers did. And sadly, neither did anybody else, otherwise his estate would have been treated like a national treasure and everyone associated with him would have written a memoir or at least a flood of letters to all people in Bach's world. We're stuck with a son's obituary as the most important single document for Bach's life. Perhaps some of those better informed know of the latest research into Bach's performance practices. But unless I've missed something really big, we are stuck with a great deal of conjecture. And, think of it, someday we'll have a three volume memoir from Bob Dylan not to mention a megaton of secondary material. (First volume actually pretty good.) As for the chamber maid, who knows. Remarriage was common in the past with people dropping like flies, especially if a young man had several children that needed a mother. It certainly would not have meant disrespect to his first spouse (although maybe they couldn't stand each other - we don't know.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 4, 2006):
Georg Gottfried Wagner (1698-1756) is the subject of a number of letters (Leipzig, September 14, 26 and October 21, November 15,1726) written by Bach to the members of the City Council of Plauen who were seeking a replacement for the Cantor at St. John’s Church (from 1688-1726), Victorinus Irmisch. Bach was approached by the council to suggest a candidate for replacement of Irmisch and recommended Wagner for this venerable position as follows: “He [Wagner] is very well educated in the humanities and particularly in music. He is experienced in composition; some performances of his compositions have been well received here. In addition, he plays the organ and other keyboard instruments well, is accomplished as well in playing the violin, violoncello and other instruments. He has a good bass voice even if it is not the strongest (“singet einen wo nicht alzu starcken doch artigen Bass”). Wagner attended St. Thomas School in Leipzig from 1712-1719 (from age 14 to 21), then studied theology and philosophy at the University of Leipzig. During these years (1719-1726), he would have continued to participate in the musical activities of the Thomanerchor under Kuhnau from age 21-25 and then under Bach from age 25-28. His bass voice would have been a welcome addition to the choir (according to what Bach wrote in a different letter which was referred to here recently) even if he probably did not actually sing bass arias and recitatives. After his audition in Plauen, Wagner was accepted for the position there and held this position in Plauen until his death in 1756.

It may be of note that of the few compositions by Wagner extant today, his 8-pt. motet “Lob und Ehre und Weisheit und Dank” was for a long time considered to be a work by J. S. Bach (BWV Anh. 162).

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 4, 2006):
I had written:
>>In the case of Bach, it would be easy to imagine that various reasons would attract a musician (older than 21 but generally younger than 30) to join Bach in performing his own cantatas: new and interesting music, being part of performances that the town and visitors to Leipzig would talk about very favorably, having closer contact with a renowned composer/musician from whom one could learn a lot, taking private music instruction from Bach and feeling a tie of loyalty to help him out in presenting his glorious music, etc.<<
I forgot one of the most important reasons:

To have J. S. Bach write a good letter of recommendation for you so that you can obtain, if possible, a lifetime position as a cantor and/or organist at an important church.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 4, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Wagner attended St. Thomas School in Leipzig from 1712-1719 (from age 14 to 21), then studied theology and philosophy at the University of Leipzig. During these years (1719­1726), he would have continued to participate in the musical activities of the Thomanerchor under Kuhnau from age 21-25 and then under Bach from age 25-28. His bass voice would have been a welcome addition to the > choir (according to what Bach wrote in a different letter which was referred to here recently) even if he probably did not actually sing bass arias and recitatives. >
Fascinating material. I still wonder about the formal organization of the men who sang in Bach's choir. All of the other performers, boys and instrumentalists were members of organizations which were controlled by the school or the municipality. I can't believe that the men singers were just free-floating volunteers like some modern church choir and that Bach was held hostage to their whimsical participation.

In order to mount the musical program, Bach must have had a consistent and well-trained group of singers in a tightly organized rota. That means that the individual singers must have been auditioned, contracted, rehearsed and paid by Bach himself. I can't believe he was dependent on boys from the school whose voices had just changed or volunteer university students.

OR ...

The men singers must have come from a self-governing Adjuvanten guild such as existed in other cities. This arrangement would have been the preferable as the singers were well-trained musicians who took their art seriously enough to form a professional organization. The combination of professional musical standards and personal devotion would have given Bach a very strong group to work with.

Alas, it appears that the documentary evidence just isn't there to explicate Wagner's professional and contractual links to Bach.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 4, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Alas, it appears that the documentary evidence just isn't there to explicate Wagner's professional and contractual links to Bach.<<
It should be emphasized that while the Adjuvantenchöre have been documented for just a few larger cities (Hamburg, Breslau), the absence of documentation from Leipzig seems to indicate that such a guild or guilds did not exist in Leipzig.

Kuhnau's complaint that some of his best singers and instrumentalists (who were not regular members of the Thomanerchor because they had already graduated from the St. Thomas School) simply wandered away to prefer performing with Telemann's Collegium Musicum or some other musical group indicates to mthat these university students were 'free-floating' and could choose to perform elsewhere if their abilities met the standards of the conductor of that group. In the case of Bach, it would be easy to imagine that various reasons would attract a musician (older than 21 but generally younger than 30) to join Bach in performing his own cantatas: new and interesting music, being part of performances that the town and visitors to Leipzig would talk about very favorably, having closer contact with a renowned composer/musician from whom one could learn a lot, taking private music instruction from Bach and feeling a tie of loyalty to help him out in presenting his glorious music, etc.

Douglas Cowling wrote (September 4, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< In the case of Bach, it would be easy to imagine that various reasons would attract a musician (older than 21 but generally younger than 30) to join Bach in performing his own cantatas: new and interesting music, being part of performances that the town and visitors to Leipzig would talk about very favorably, having closer contact with a renowned composer/musician from whom one could learn a lot, taking private music instruction from Bach and feeling a tie of loyalty to help him out in presenting his glorious music, etc. >
I would like to believe this but I'm afraid that we are projecting contemporary attitudes about volunteer church choirs back to a time when church music was performed by paid professionals (the municipal instrumentalists) or students whose participation was a compulsory part of their attendance at the school.

This pattern goes back to the Renaissance where all church music was performed by paid professionals or by clergy whose stipend was conditional on their performance. A volunteer church choir in a parish singing art music simply did not exist until the 19th century. For instance, in the 16th century a wealthy London church did not have resident choir but rather paid outside musicans to come in and perform on festivals.

This is the reason that Luther devised two forms for the mass. The "Formula Missae" assumed that the Latin rite and concerted art music would be performed in churches which had choir schools and paid instrumentalists. The second, the so-called "German Mass", was designed for small churches which had no professional musicians or organs. In this form, the people sang the chorales in unison without accompaniment.

St. Thomas and its constellation of parish churches always belonged to the first category. Although the documentary evidence is missing, Bach's men singers must have had a regulated relationship to the musico-industrial machine which produced the massive amounts of music for Leipzig's churches. The notion that Bach was always trying to entice volunteers into his choirs -- the recruiting nightmare of the 21st century choir directory -- simply does not fit with the bureaucracy of 18th century Leipzig.

I somehow doubt that Doug Cowling could turn up on a Thursday night at St. Thomas' and say, "Gee, Herr Bach, can I sing the cantata with you this week?"

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 5, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>The notion that Bach was always trying to entice volunteers into his choirs -- the recruiting nightmare of the 21st entury choir directory -- simply does not fit with the bureaucracy of 18th century Leipzig.<<
Read very carefully Bach's Entwurff (Leipzig, August 23, 1730) where he complains about voices and instruments still lacking after he counts together what is needed after analyzing what the Thomanerchor can or cannot supply. This lack of sufficient performers, Bach indicates, has only been partly taken care of by "university students who find themselves willing to participate [in the musical performances of the main figural music, cantatas, etc) simply based upon the hope that they might receive some compensation for their efforts. But since such compensation has even been withdrawn [by the city/church authorities who had previously paid for such extra, musical forces as needed], such university students are now even less willing to participate" This is the same complaint that Kuhnau had voiced a decade or so earlier. Bach then states: "Denn wer wird ümsonst [sic] arbeiten, oder Dienste thun?" ("Who wants to work or do any service for nothing?")

Bach continues: "It is a well-known fact that my predecessors, Schell and Kuhnau, also were forced to rely upon the assistance given by university students in order to produce pleasant-sounding music with a full chorus and orchestra, for which. at least, they [these students who supplied the necessary vocalists, Basses, Tenors, even Altos as well as instrumentalists all formerly paid by the City Council] were able to receive adequate compensation thus being moved ('animated') to help boost and increase the sound of church music [cantatas, passions, oratorios, etc.]."

And yet Bach's performances of sacred music continued for another two decades after 1730 with the students singing and playing for nothing or close to nothing. Only in a few instances do the church financial accounts indicate a payment to non-Thomanerchor participants for such services performed (a payment to Altnickol comes to mind here). Bach must have been very resourceful in finding ways to entice these university students who sang and played in his church music to remain faithful and continue to return week after week to be part of these marvelous performances.

 

MUSICOLOGY: Bach and his choirs [Choral-List]

R. Daniel Earl [Director of the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus] wrote (August 28, 2006):
I am wondering if you can tell me if Bach would have worked with an all male choir. And in something like his Magnificat in D Major would the alto >part been sung by adult male altos. If the choir is comprised of boys and men, would the soprano and alto solos have been sung by boy sopranos and altos also?

Did women sing at all in the German Lutheran Church of his time?

Thank you,

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 30, 2006):
[To Dan Earl] This topic was recently discussed in the Bach Cantatas Mailing List (BCML).
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Men.htm

R. Daniel Earl wrote (August 31, 2006):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks for the help.

 

Bach performers [Choral-Talk]

R. Daniel Earl wrote (September 6, 2006):
I would like to thank all those who responded to my question regarding Bach choir performers for his Magnificat in D. Specifically I was wondering if it was an all male choir, boys on the soprano and alto parts and men on the tenor bass.

I received some twenty responses, all but two concurred that it would have been an all male choir, even to the extent that the solos would have been sung by boy sopranos and boy altos. Many also indicated that the male voice often did not change until the late teens, 17, 18 etc. Thus Bach would have had a musically well trained group of boys who could handle the challenges of both the solo and the choral parts.

Thank you to all who responded. It confirmed my general thoughts and gave me interesting additional information.

Thanks again,

Michael Hartney [Ottawa (Canada)] wrote (September 6, 2006):
R. Daniel Earl wrote:
< I received some twenty responses, all but two concurred that it would have been an all male choir, even to the extent that the solos would have been sung by boy sopranos and boy altos. Many also indicated that the male voice often did not change until the late teens, 17, 18 etc. Thus Bach would have had a musically well trained group of boys who could handle the challenges of both the solo and the choral parts. >
We really are led to wonder what Bach's works must have sounded like when sung by his gang of boys. In his famous 1730 report to the Leipzig city council, he complains that he has only 55 boy singers with which to provide music for the four city churches, that each ccan have a choir of only about 12 boys, that 3 singers per part is the absolute minimum needed because if one singer is sick there will still be 2 left in that section, so that, if a double-choir chorus is to be sung, there will be at least one boy per part, and that when some of his adult instrumentalists are sick and have to be replaced by boy singers who can play an instrument he has even fewer boys available to sing. Under those conditions, he had to perform a cantata every Sunday, using some of his boys as soloists. We are led to wonder whether he ever heard his cantatas sung very well.

John Howell [Virginia Tech Department of Music] wrote (September 7, 2006):
[To Michael Hartney] One must be very careful about reading too much into that particular memo. Bach was asking for more support, and for more autonomy in running the choir school. Of course he made things sound as bad as he possibly could! Wouldn't you? And be careful in running the numbers, too. The "boys" didn't sing the tenor and bass parts, students from the university did, and he very likely sent out only a few boys to sing unison in the smaller churches in town. I am curious whether he attempted to present larger-scale cantatas at both St. Thomas and St. Nicholas on the same Sundays, or whether they alternated, as they did with the elaborate afternoon Passion music on Good Fridays. And I suspect that double-choir cantatas would have been reserved for VERY special services.

The simple fact is that we have no idea what Bach's choirs sounded like, but to automatically assume for ANY reason that they sounded bad, or that they sounded worse than a good performance of his music today, is much like assuming that his keyboard music was never performed well because they didn't have concert grand pianos.

There are two things we DO know. First, that the Leipzig Town Council never hesitated to criticize Bach for any number of reasons, but they never criticized the quality of the church music performances he provided. And second, we know the precise capabilities of both his singers and his instrumentalists, because they are right there on the page in what he wrote for them.

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 7, 2006):
[To Michael Hartney] Composers who are attached to performing entities will (a) be inspired to write music for that entity, because it is easy for him or her to conjure up that entity's sound while writing, and (b) never compose, as Bach did on a regular basis, music that is beyond the capability of the singers at hand. It makes no sense to think that he never heard his music sung well.

I think it is also possible that his letters to the Leipzig city council were slanted toward getting the results he was seeking (more money!), so if he had written that the boys were terrific and they sang beautifully, do you think that would have inspired additional funds from the city fathers? Apparently, Bach didn't think so.

Finally, if you want to hear Bach's music sung in as close a proximation to the original, however difficult the goal is to find such, you should listen to performances of the Toelzer Knabenchor, directed by Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, who is celebrating in 2006 the 50th Anniversary of his founding of the choir. Gerhard is "typisch deutsch" when it comes to ferreting out facts regarding original instrumentation, original pitch and original singers and numbers of singers. You will hear as close to the sound for which Bach composed music when you listen to the Tölzers.

Jerome Hoberman [Music Director/Conductor - The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra] wrote (September 8, 2006):
[To Douglas Neslund] Of course, the comments below are as subjective as any others. Joshua Rifkin et al. might argue that because the Toelzers are a choir and not a collection of one-to-a-part soloists they are as remote from Bach's experience as are performances by 250-person amateur choral societies. He, too, has documentation to support his theses, which are no more or less authoritative than Schmidt-Gaden's.

Others might point for examples to performances by the Thomanenchor in Leipzig, which has an unbroken tradition of performing Bach.

But I think Douglas may inadvertently have made the point he was attempting to refute when he wrote the first sentence quoted below in part. Bach on a regular basis wrote music that is just about beyond the capabilities of the finest adult singers today, in which the voices are treated as mercilessly as he treated instruments. I can more easily imagine him spending his life in Leipzig in a constant state of frustration, knowing that each week he would be disappointed on Sunday, and looking forward to his evenings with the Collegium Musicum where he could deal with keyboards and strings which wouldn't interrupt his long phrases with intrusive breaths and where, perhaps, he was free of the tyranny of Sundays and could perform things when they were ready.

Douglas Neslund wrote (September 8, 2006):
Jerome Hoberman wrote:
< Of course, the comments below are as subjective as any others. Joshua Rifkin et al. might argue that because the Toelzers are a choir and not a collection of one-to-a-part soloists they are as remote from Bach's experience as are performances by 250-person amateur choral societies. He, too, has documentation to support his theses, which are no more or less authoritative than Schmidt-Gaden's. >
I am honored by your giving attention to my earlier comments, which are of course my own, subjective indeed, but I would argue, not so inadvertent.

By holding the Thomanerchor Leipzig up "for examples of performances [of] an unbroken tradition of performing Bach," you are accepting of a style of performance practice that other scholars have rejected. Bach, as we all accept (I think), is indestructible. After a weekend of glorious music-making at Bachfest Leipzig 2001, I personally heard Georg Christoph Biller, the present holder of Bach's position, tell Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden that as a result of having heard the Toelzers in sumptuous meals of cantatas and service music, "We are going to have to rethink our approach to Bach performance." (Former Thomaskantor Hans-Joachim Rotzsch was also in attendance.) Schmidt-Gaden employed three different organs, each tuned to a different temperament according to the time and place of each composition. The choir had to learn the sometimes subtle differences. To such ends he insisted upon as authentic as possible reproduction of Baroque performance practice.

Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, as a young man, studied at the side of Thomaskantor Kurt Thomas. As he studied the anomalous differences between Bach's own Thomaner-et al.-chor and the swollen forces of Kurt Thomas that continue to today, he became convinced that large numbers of singers were not the proper instrument for Bach's music, and determined that one day he would create his own choir employing the number of singers that in his research he found to be authentic in the performance of Bach's sacred music. He uses three voices on a part for double-chorus material, and six on a part for four-part cantatas etc. except where he found exceptions enumerated by Bach.

I do not wish engage in a hopeless argument - for that is what it is - over the "authenticity" of Joshua Rifkin's documentation, which seems to have been based, inter alia, on the assumption that Bach's singing forces were required to attend to four separate congregations worshipping at the same time. Not so. The service times were staggered throughout the day so that it would be possible for a larger force to sing services in more than one or two Leipzig churches on a single Sunday. Schmidt-Gaden does use single-voice ripieni quartets in the double-choir motets, to great effect.

To those who have yet to hear the Tölzers perform "one-voice-per-part," I recommendthe three-CD set of Heinrich Schütz's Little Sacred Concertos recorded in 1993 on the Capriccio label, arranged by the composer in solo through five-part items. This trilogy speaks for itself, and puts to death the notion that boys are incapable of singing very highly sophisticated music, and is in fact not mere opinion, but brilliant and beautiful singing.

Your choir's 2006-2007 season looks very rich indeed!

 

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Last update: ýNovember 5, 2008 ý16:29:33