Recordings/Discussions
Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Modern Choir Schools & Bach

Modern choir schools

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 20, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
<< :30 CONCERT
with The Saint Thomas Choir, Soloists, and Musica Angelica Los Angeles; Orchestra Wiener Akademie
Martin Haselböck, Conductor
Johann Sebastian Bach SAINT MATTHEW PASSION >>
< This choir uses boys for the sopranos? Altos, too? >
St. Thomas', Fifth Avenue in NYC has arguably the best Anglican church choir in North America. The choir is formed on English custom with boys on the soprano and counter-tenors on alto. The interesting aspect for this list is that it is a parish church (not a cathedral or college) which has a residential choir school. This is probably as close to the model which Bach enjoyed at Leipzig as we can find in the 21st century.

As you can see from the music lists and audio files in the link below, the choir has a very ambitious musical program, possible only because of the frequent services and residential choristers.

Of special interest are a series of ten concerts showcasing the organ music of Buxtehude: http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/Stream.html

Canyon Rick wrote (March 21, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< St. Thomas', Fifth Avenue in NYC has arguably the best Anglican church choir in North America. The choir is formed on English custom with boys on the soprano and counter-tenors on alto. The interesting aspect for this list is that it is a parish church (not a cathedral or college) which has a residential choir school. This is probably as close to the model which Bach enjoyed at Leipzig as we can find in the 21st century. >
Do they use boys as solists? (tho not in this SMP (BWV 244) apparently) Would a choir such as this or in England make any differentiation between "music classes" and "rehearsal"?

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 21, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< Do they use boys as solists? (tho not in this SMP (BWV 244) apparently) Would a choir such as this or in England make any differentiation between "music classes" and "rehearsal"? >
Boys are used in music which is sung during services. In the Baroque repertoire, this would be primarily in the so-called 17th and early 18th century "verse" anthems of Purcell and Boyce. Only very rarely is a full anthem by Handel or a cantata by Bach sung during a service. The same is true of the modern Thomas Choir in Leipzig. Performances of the cantatas and passions are invariably presented as ticketed concerts and use women soloists.

English based schools have both class lessons and individual lessons. Class lessons are usually geared to refurbishing known repertoire and learning new pieces while individual lessons focus on voice, instrument and keyboard. There is a high value placed on good reading skills and the boys in top choir schools have formidible talents and consistently outpace adults who are not in this performance atmosphere.

Could modern men and boys prepare a Bach cantata in a week? Probably if they trained up to that schedule. Could they be handed a cantata and sing it without any rehearsal? No, but then neither could Bach's 10 year olds. His boys were top-notch, but they were not supernatural. We simply don't know how Bach divided his cantatas among his performers and how the schedule of individual and ensemble rehearsals was arranged.

My surmise is that Bach's musicians probably relied more heavily on indivudal practising than full rehearsals. If different players played the same part, the movements could be rehearsed in very small ensembles and broken down to accommodate the academic timetable. We alos don;t know how Bach delegated teaching and rehearsal to his prefects who were his assistant conductors. I've often wondered if Bach first rehearsal was with himself on first violin, his keyboard player and cello and bass. That inner core would created the spine of even the most elaborate music.

Now before there is a explosion of NBA gobbets all over the place, let me repeat that this is all speculation. We just don't know!

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 21, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< My surmise is that Bach's musicians probably relied more heavily on indivudal practising than full rehearsals. If different players played the same part, the movements could be rehearsed in very small ensembles and broken down to accommodate the academic timetable. >
I tnink this has been suggested before, by Cara T. and perhaps others, but emphasis and concise language is never out of place.

< We also don't know how Bach delegated teaching and rehearsal to his prefects who were his assistant conductors. I've often wondered if Bach first rehearsal was with himself on first violin, his keyboard player and cello and bass. That inner core would created the spine of even the most elaborate music. >
I hope you have the opportunity to hear some of the recent performances by Boston groups, I don't hear the same sound reproduced on commercial recordings, as yet. I previously wrote a few words about the Winsor Music continuo in BWV 202, which was the performance played this past Sunday on WGBH by Brian McCreath, alas not otherwise available.

David Hoose with the Cantata Singers used exactly the same continuo configuration in the Domine Deum (II/3) of the Bm Mass to great effect this previous weekend.

This continuo spine (keyboard, cello, bass), to my ears, makes a wonderful sound behind violin, oboe, flute, vocal solo, or duet, all subject to rehearsal in small groups. I encourage you to pursue this thought, however conjectural it may be, and whatever the resistance by 'NBA gobbets' (and thanks for the vocabulary addition!)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 21, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Could modern men and boys prepare a Bach cantata in a week? Probably if they trained up to that schedule. Could they be handed a cantata and sing it without any rehearsal? No, but then neither could Bach's 10 year olds.<<
But they, the 10 year olds and any above that age who had not yet undergone a mutation of the voice (Bach still sang soprano in Lüneburg at age 15), could easily sing the cantus firmus soprano and alto parts for the opening chorale mvts. and the closing 4-pt. chorale and other choral parts (motets, etc.) at sight. There would always be one concertist as a section leader. I think it can be assumed that the tenor and bass concertists (soloists and section leaders) came from among the university students and a few of Bach's private music students. These adult (up to age 30) musicians were definitely capable virtuosi that could perform Bach's cantatas without any rehearsals.

DC: >>His [Bach's] boys were top-notch, but they were not supernatural.<<
No, they were not, but the ones chosen by Bach to be in the primary choir were extremely proficient in sight-reading music and were in constant practice singing other works (motets, etc.; perhaps they even sang some of Bach's own motets as practice to keep in shape).

DC: >>We simply don't know how Bach divided his cantatas among his performers and how the schedule of individual and ensemble rehearsals was arranged.<<
This is true, but as I try to get a picture of what was going on, I am beginning to think

1. Bach rarely, if ever, taught/conducted the music classes. This job he delegated to his prefects whom he carefully chose for their proven abilities.

2. Bach spent a great portion of his work days (did they include Saturday as well?) teaching music privately. Some of these 'private' music students were probably very talented Thomaner officially enrolled in the school (instruction for which, he, of course, would not be paid, while most of the others were non-Thomaner, some were university students, but others not (many simply came with letters of recommendation from various place outside of Leipzig).

3. Bach had to compose his cantatas quickly, which he did 'at the last moment' allowing just enough time to getthe parts ready for performance (not rehearsal) the next morning.

DC: >>I've often wondered if Bach first rehearsal was with himself on first violin, his keyboard player and cello and bass. That inner core would created the spine of even the most elaborate music.<<
Would Bach stay up after midnight or get up early the next morning at 4 am before the performance a few hours later to conduct such a rehearsal of sorts? I think not.

Chris Stanley wrote (March 21, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< Do they use boys as solists? (tho not in this SMP (BWV 244) apparently) Would a choir such as this or in England make any differentiation between "music classes" and "rehearsal"? >
Doug Cowling has answered part of this question.

From my own experience at Southwell Minster from age 8 to 15, a typical English cathedral choir has rehearsals as follows:
Boys: Monday to Saturday 8.30 to 9.00am and 15 minutes before each service.
Sunday 30 minutes before each service.

Boys and Lay Clerks (Men) Thursday evening for 1 to 2 hours

This for a standard weeks services:

Evensong: Monday Wednesday (Boys only) Thursday (Men only) Friday Saturday Sunday
Mattins: Sunday

Music classes were given during schooltime. Instrument lessons organ, piano, etc were sometimes timetabled into the curriculum or else taken in any spare time.

A very disciplined existence !!!

Regarding rehearsal/non-rehearsal for the chorale cantata choruses, of course many of the tunes would have been very familiar and could be done then and now with little or no practice. I fail to understand that argument however for some of the complex arias (e.g. faced with 7 bars of runs where on earth can I breathe!!!! is the thought that comes to mind for say BWV 132 opening soprano aria, then further stretched with a nine bar run, that's cruel!!, at least for a boy to sight-read in front of a congregation). which must have been rehearsed.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 21, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< 3. Bach had to compose his cantatas quickly, which he did 'at the last moment' allowing just enough time to get the parts ready for performance (not rehearsal) the next morning. >
DC: >>I've often wondered if Bach first rehearsal was with himself on first violin, his keyboard player and cello and bass. That inner core would created the spine of even the most elaborate music.<<
< Would Bach stay up after midnight or get up early the next morning at 4 am before the performance a few hours later to conduct such a rehearsal of sorts? I think not. >
But this (culminating in "I think not"!) is all predicated on your assertion that Bach ever (let alone regularly!) waited until Saturday to finish the piece. This time constraint of no-rehearsal-possible has been imposed by you, because of that assumption of yours.

It's that unmusical assumption that his whole band of players and singers were all so unbelievably good at sight-reading, that they'd stand for (or encourage!) such a last-minute-Saturday approach to creating the material. You require this -- you require this!! -- because of your assumption that real musicians (who do things you don't) are somehow able to perform Bach's difficult music well enough at sight.

Whereas, if you'd simply allow that real musicians -- whether living or dead, whether expert or not -- really do need to rehearse our stuff at least once or twice before mounting a public performance, your unending Saturday-night-fantasy fluff would have to go away. Too bad.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (March 21, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"It's that unmusical assumption that his whole band of players and singers were all so unbelievably good at sight-reading, that they'd stand for (or encourage!) such a last-minute-Saturday approach to creating the material."
Yes, and another assumption is: if Bach could materially do a thing at the last minute, he would prefer to do it at the last minute and not before.

Other things that look to me as assumptions in this scenario:
- Bach "composed" only when he was writing down the notes on the paper - consequently, he could not give a taste of his music to his musicians before the music was written down
- Bach did not make any drafts - if Bach had made drafts he would have kept them and we would have found them - consequently he could not show his musicals ideas to his musicians before they received the definitive parts
- Bach did not compose / write parts during the day
- if the parts are in good condition it is because they have been used only once

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 21, 2007):
[To Thérèse Hanquet] I agree -- all of those assumptions are shaky (at best), and that's a good list!

I'd add the further bunch of points, as to the "reasoning" process that apparently leads into this whole batch of absurdity....

- Assume (against all odds and sense) that Bach regularly dicked around all week, busy with other things or whatever, and didn't finish composing his cantatas until the Saturday night before Sunday morning performance.

- Observe (correctly) that a Saturday-night finish would not allow any rehearsal time on Sunday morning.

- Spend three months assembling red-herring evidence that some German musicians sometimes didn't rehearse (or expect to rehearse) as much as some of their competitors or colleagues elsewhere.

- Recycle this bucket-o-herrings backward: as oddly circular "proof" that therefore Bach dicked around all week and didn't finish his cantatas until Saturday night, and that everybody sight-read them adequately without any practice, and without ever hearing anything of them that's not shown on the page. Tempos, balances, articulations, dynamics, phrasing, correct harmonies, any discrepancies among the parts...nope, no chance to hear how any of it goes first, to make any corrections. It's gotta be done wholly at prima vista, and no hearing, nothing in anybody's private or group or class lessons during the week or any previous week. All straight from the page, and all somehow "proving" that the page itself didn't even exist until that day.

- Ignore or disregard all protests from real musicians, pointing out that Bach's music is too bloody difficult to support any such expectation of performing it adequately at sight. Ignore all the technical points where detail has been given, showing why it's impossibly complex and difficult, and why some features of it were never notated to a modern level of completeness (like, for example, unfigured continuo parts). Ignore all this, because the understanding of these points requires musicianship and experience in actually performing Bach's music; ignore everything, in fact, that isn't on paper or carefully documented in critical editions of the scores. Ignore everything that requires practical understanding. Argue the whole silly thing from this deliberate ignorance of music.

- Recycle, once again, the same old premise that Bach waited until Saturday night to finish; and reuse this premise as its own conclusion.

- Spend three months (four yet?) further pressing the non-rehearsal thing, as if Bach (an expert musician) would ever have preferred such a [non-]working method...especially with teenaged students, let alone any of his more experienced colleagues as professional or amateur musicians, who might show up from outside the regular ensemble and sight-read in some other style that would upset him....

Doesn't make sense. For starters, it makes Bach into an administrator severely unfit for his own job, and presses impossible expectations onto all his colleagues and students...punishing everybody for the premise (itself) that Bach waited until Saturdays. Which isn't proven by any of the red-herring stuff about non-rehearsals in Germany, anyway! Even if (unlikely) the performances really were sight-read, somehow, it still doesn't exclude the possibility that the scores/parts were actually finished at least a week or two ahead. So again, this whole thing is a failure of basic reason, plus a failure of understanding musical processes of performance....

=====

And it apparently goes on "forever" here. I'm catching up on the things I missed, baway all of last week, and I see it was still going on (as if it made any sense to begin with).

Incidentally, I did hear a basically sight-read performance of a Bach ensemble piece last week. It didn't go well, and they had to stop and restart parts of it several times. Good musicians, too. There had been rehearsals scheduled, but the conductor was then in hospital unconscious for part of that week, and they could only try bits and pieces of it without him. The performance was the only complete run-through. And this was from nicely printed and checked parts, and a piece that most of them had had opportunity to hear before! It barely held together, just getting most of the notes, with no focused interpretation; a natural and obvious result of not rehearsing enough, or talking about style, or coming to even basic agreement about tempos and phrasing.

If Bach or anybody in his family were ever out sick, during the week of or preceding a performance, to prepare the musicians in any way, wouldn't that spike the Sunday performance even worse than this? Couldn't finish writing the thing until 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning instead of 7:00 p.m. Saturday, sorry, the kids were ill at home. Not a very good excuse for having the Sunday morning music totally crash and burn, or even not be there at all; again showing the absurdity of the regular-Saturday-night premise itself. Zero margin of error or delay.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 21, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
It seems he protesteth too much.

Philip Legge wrote (March 22, 2007):
[To Thomas Braatz] As this is my first posting to the list, I thought I should briefly introduce myself - I'm an amateur musician working in Melbourne; I'm known as a singer (counter-tenor/high tenor), musicologist, editor of music (120 scores posted to CPDL.org, some orchestral scores to be published by UMP Co. (UK)), and sometime conductor, arranger, and very occasionally, composer...

Anyway, as I have observed the arguments rage back and forth for many weeks on the questions of Bach's allegedly non-existent rehearsals without offering any comment, may I break my silence by making this small contribution?

I can accept that Bach may have on occasion not rehearsed music prior to performance - but I cannot agree with Thomas that Bach would have preferred this mode of music production or that his musicians would have been able to perform this music flawlessly at sight (better than modern performers? you must be joking), and neither can I accept that this was supposed to be the normal week-in week-out state of affairs!

I have sung with professional ensembles in Australia, and I know my sight-reading to be of similar standard in repertoire as demanding, or more so, than Bach; while I will get almost all of the notes right on a first run, and will usually be sensitive to the dynamics, phrasing, etc, neither will it be my best performance in terms of finesse or of getting the overall impression of the music, which needs to be sung or played in for best results. Modern performers also have the advantage of carefully edited materials, and Thomas's argument doesn't seem to allow for the fact that Bach's singers and players were the first-ever performers and interpreters of the music; there will have been mistakes by the copyists in the parts, or various other inconsistencies that will have had to been ironed out before a competent performance could have been given.

There are simply too many variables in the game of performance for such a sight-reading run to possibly succeed at the artistic level Thomas seems to imagine, and had Bach done this on any regular basis, the result would have been more or less a train wreck, or multiple train wrecks, during each week's Sunday morning cantata. For this reason there must have been usually some minimal amount rehearsal - at the very least a single run-through - prior to performance. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 22, 2007):
Philip Legge wrote:
< There are simply too many variables in the game of performance for such a sight-reading run to possibly succeed at the artistic level Thomas seems to imagine, and had Bach done this on any regular basis, the result would have been more or less a train wreck, or multiple train wrecks, during each week's Sunday morning cantata. >
Are we certain this was not the case?

< For this reason there must have been usually some minimal amount rehearsal - at the very least a single run-through - prior to performance. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence! >
No, but it is wide open opportunity for scenario development without constraints, filling many of these pages. I used to think listening to geologists wave their arms about how the rocks were formed, over billions of years, was as wild as it gets.

Welcome, and thanks for the post, the more the merrier.

Philip Legge wrote (March 22, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski] Hi Ed, and thanks for your welcome -

<< There are simply too many variables in the game of performance for such a sight-reading run to possibly succeed at the artistic level Thomas seems to imagine, and had Bach done this on any regular basis, the result would have been more or less a train wreck, or multiple train wrecks, during each week's Sunday morning cantata. >>
< Are we certain this was not the case? >
Not really; the evidence being at least two centuries old, it may easily be disputed or gainsaid, and various theories proposed to argue that Bach lived in some golden age when musicians could sight-read this tricky music at incomparably finer standards than we confused moderns could possibly aspire to. (c.f. Brunner's quote in my signature.)

I was just pointing out that music practice is a completely different beast, and it gives a much better baseline as to what is humanly possible, and what Bach would have been able to do with his resources. Fortunately, we can draw on living musicians of high stature and years of experience to probe those possible limits. We can be fairly certain that Bach's performances would have been fairly rough without any rehearsal, and occasionally there would have had major problems owing to human error. We can also be certain that most of these difficulties would have been rectified by rehearsal, resulting in more polished performance.

e.g. the current-day Thomaskantor was in Melbourne recently, and I can assure you the cantatas were rehearsed before the Sunday morning church service (which commenced at 9 am, so the rehearsal started at 8 o'clock).

 

Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Boys’ Choirs | Modern Choir Schools

Introduction | Cantatas | Other Vocal | Instrumental | Performers | General Topics | Articles | Books | Movies | New
Biographies | Texts & Translations | Scores | References | Commentaries | Music | Concerts | Festivals | Tour | Art & Memorabilia
Chorale Texts | Chorale Melodies | Lutheran Church Year | Readings | Poets & Composers | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Search Website | Search Works/Movements | Terms & Abbreviations | Copyright | How to contribute | Sitemap | Links



 

Back to the Top


Last update: ıAugust 15, 2007 ı07:37:27