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Notes Value

Holding notes for full notated value

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 16, 2002):
Francine Renee Hall wrote:
< (...)Going through the Reger, it appears we played the Gavotte I and II from the Suite in C major; the Aria from the Suite in D major. I know this because the written instructions were to "hold" my notes. This was big flaw of mine until my university teacher noticed I was not holding all the vertical note values properly. (I finally did this correctly for my half-finished Fugue XX from Book I of the WTC.) (...) >

Hmm. Perhaps your instincts before such a lesson were better than you now suspect. Check out your Harnoncourt essays about this very topic, about how it's sometimes truer to a work's content to play notes shorter than notated, especially in music from before 1800. (True to the work, as opposed to being true to the notation.)

One of the first things Edward Parmentier corrected in my own playing, first when I met him in masterclasses and then more thoroughly after I started studying with him in grad school, was that I was too careful about holding all the notes for the notated lengths...opposite "problem" from yours. I wasn't being gestural enough with the music, and I was staying too close to the keyboard in order to hold all those notes.

He pointed out to me that a note of some length might be only the clearest shorthand to show that the next note should not begin before this note's time has elapsed...but this note doesn't necessarily have to be held for that full time itself. That is, it's clearer to notate the music this way rather than filling it with various sizes of rests indicating exactly when each note should be lifted. Yes, there can be staccato half notes and whole notes! (In fact, there are some in Bach's D minor English Suite, and many more in the suites of JKF Fischer.)

None of this has to do with any notion of "because Harnoncourt says so," but because the music sounds better when played gesturally.

There are also some examples in Couperin where the composer puts in rests to indicate that another voice in the texture is going to need that key, so get off it...but don't make the current note sound short, give it the illusion that it's longer than is notated!

The point is, one has to analyze the musical content to figure out how long to play the notes, whether longer or shorter or exactly as notated.

And it goes back to language, basic human expression. When you want to grab somebody's attention you use silence as a part of what you say. The space between the words in a sentence helps the clarity of the phrase. Extra silence after a word makes the word even more emphatic before the next word comes along.

"Think it over"...when Diana Ross and the Supremes deliver the line, "Stop! in the name of love" they make the word "Stop!" very short, and the silence after it grabs you. If they'd sing, "Stooooooooppp in the name of love" running it all together and making the first word long, the phrase wouldn't make as much sense, nor would it have the same impact.

Yes! we have no bananas, we have no bananas today!

For it's root!, root!, root! for the home team, if they don't win it's a shame; and it's one! two! three strikes you're out at the old ball game.

In singing "Mary had a little lamb," the only way to clarify "little lamb" is to put space between them so there's room for the second L sound. Otherwise it sounds like "litta lamb" or "little 'am," and lamb is not ham.

Right?

Francine Renee Hall wrote (August 16, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] Right!!! Thanks! You're a wonderful teacher. Heading with pleasure towards my Harnoncourt essays... :)

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 17, 2002):
Brad Lehman stated:
< He pointed out to me that a note of some length might be only the clearest shorthand to show that the next note should not begin before this note's time has elapsed...but this note doesn't necessarily have to be held for that full time itself. That is, it's clearer to notate the music this way rather than filling it with various sizes of rests indicating exactly when each note should be lifted. Yes, there can be staccato half notes and whole notes! (In fact, there are some in Bach's D minor English Suite, and many more in the suites of JKF Fischer.) >
If you are referring to the highly unusual wedge markings over two chords with half notes in ms. 31 at the end of the Gavotte I of BWV 811, there is some reason to doubt the correctness of these marks of articulation. Example: Two of the important manuscripts of this Gavotte that the NBA considered as primary sources show absolutely no articulation marks. Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber's manuscript dated 1725 and another by a copier identified as Anonymous 4, [yes, this is his official name according to Alfred Dürr] a rather important, yet unidentified copier whose handiwork is found in the last versions of the SJP (BWV 245), the Easter Oratorio (BWV 248) and cantata BWV 195.

The NBA has decided to include these marks because they appear in three other sources from the period, two other sources have simply dots.

From this I personally come to the conclusion that Bach may have wanted a slight momentary lifting between one chord and the next, but it boggles my mind to infer by wild analogy, that this was an unwritten performance practice that a conductor like Harnoncourt can apply willy-nilly in any other situation where half and whole notes occur elsewhere in Bach's works and are reduced by one half of their value or even more, or that a keyboard artist should feel free to apply this very special type of articulation elsewhere (except when the final chords occur in a context such as given at the end of the Gavotte I.) Or can you list many other examples of wedges in Bach's compositions?

< It's clearer to notate the music this way rather than filling it with various sizes of rests indicating exactly when each note should be lifted. >
And yet Bach persisted in painstakingly doing just this (filling in laboriously all the necessary rests) in his cantatas, e.g., BWV 61/4 Recitativo. If it were not for the fact, that Bach was more careful than most composers in marking the articulation as he wanted it, Edward Parmentier's observations might 'hold more water.'

Somehow, behind all of this, I perceive the type of thinking Arnold Schering instigated in the 1930's when he spoke of the 'selbstverständlich' unwritten rules governing the long notes in the bc of a secco recitative. Many musicologists have followed in his footsteps. I have just been reading Karl Hochreither's book, "Regarding the Performance Practice of Johann Sebastian Bach's Vocal- and Instrumental Works." The basis of what he (1975-1980) and Dreyfus have to say about this subject is found in Schering's book which I have discussed on this site before. As a result of this investigation, I personally have become much more wary about all theories such as "it's clearer to notate the music this way" or "this was an unwritten rule or custom that all performers in Bach's time adhered to."

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2002):
[To Thomas Braatz] Don't blame Mr Parmentier for citing the Bach and Fischer examples as sufficient evidence. As I recall, he didn't. He is very careful with logic and evidence and facts. His teaching style (at least for his grad students) is to present examples and questions and possibilities and contradictions, and then to allow the student to draw his/her own conclusions from that evidence. He doesn't say "this is right" or "that is wrong." I remember questions to me and to my classmates such as, "What is the nature of the evidence that you'd expect would be necessary to convince you of such-and-such?".. getting us to realize for ourselves what our own thought processes and biases and habits might be, and sparking us to go do our own work rather than having things handed to us.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 17, 2002):
This weekend I sat down to think more generally. What do I find satisfying or unsatisfying in a performance I hear? What do I think about myself when preparing a performance? What is the nature of the evidence that convinces me when I seek to understand a composer's intentions?

And why does it bother me so much when people here talk of slicing and dicing two or more performances together into a composite recording, and changing speeds and pitch, and otherwise changing a performer's recording of a work? An excellent performer has prepared the work as a whole, and that performance is diminished if some of its elements are taken away. Sure, a listener might prefer some other interpretation of a passage or a whole movement (considered in a vacuum), but it doesn't make much sense to me to replace that section with someone else's work! That's like willy-nilly surgically replacing a few organs from a living creature, like plugging in a different electronic component or something. But there are reasons
why living things don't take very readily to organ grafts and transfusions and other replacement parts: it diminishes the life of the whole. And a good performance, at its best, really is organic and indivisible....

Anyway, I have compiled my list of principles onto a new page:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm
That is a list of the things a good performer thinks about while preparing and delivering a performance of real excellence.

Re #8 on my list, the markings in the score: Tom Braatz asked about the presence of wedges, dots, and other articulative markings in Bach. That's one good part of figuring out Bach's intentions, looking for those notational clues. But I think that looking for that notational detail is only one relatively small factor among several dozen things to consider (see above); one "should" play some of the notes shorter or longer regardless if there are wedges/dots or if the score has no articulative markings at all. Character, rhythm, dance, flow, and instrumental technique are all at least as important as looking for wedges. It's important not to get bogged down in that positivistic quest for markings; there is so much more to the music than is (or can ever be) notated in the score.

In a gavotte such as the one in Bach's D minor English suite, those half notes near the end should be played short for other reasons in addition to the presence of wedges, and I think the wedges are merely cautionary for a performer who otherwise might not consider the possibility of playing those notes short.

Meanwhile, for some more examples of wedges in Bach, the following examples come immediately to mind: (1) last page of Brandenburg #4, wedges for everybody on those shocking chords; (2) the F-major harpsichord arrangement of Brandenburg #4 (BWV 1057), same spot, even more of the notes have wedges in this version (both chords of each pair, not only the second one of each); (3) WTC II fugues in E minor, A minor, and B-flat minor; (4) the third and fourth of the Duetti, BWV 804-5; (5) all of the harpsichord concertos (BWV 1052-8) have many wedges in them.

-----

Now, if only someone could train pianists to know what strong and weak bars are in the music of this period, part of an understanding of dance rhythm, .... There are so many otherwise satisfactory renditions of Bach's keyboard works on piano, but few if any really convey enough sense of the rhythm, IMO. The piano could be suited so admirably to these multiple levels of dynamics (the rich levels of dynamic effects that we harpsichordists and organists have to simulate, moment to moment, varying articulation and note lengths and the intra-note spacing)...but for some reason I don't understand, pianists are not trained to think in this manner, weighting the various notes within a phrase with multiple levels of dynamic interest. There is instead too much emphasis on uniformity of touch, and I think it kills the music.

It's not only pianists who should pick this up; it's a factor I also miss hearing in the playing of modern violinists, cellists, flautists, etc when they come to Baroque music. Uniformity of articulation and dynamics is death to the music. The notes look all the same on the page, yes, but the notes are not the music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 20, 2002):
Brad stated:
< Meanwhile, for some more examples of wedges in Bach, the following examples come immediately to mind: (1) last page of Brandenburg #4, wedges for everybody on those shocking chords; (2) the F-major harpsichord arrangement of Brandenburg #4 (BWV 1057), same spot, even more of the notes have wedges in this version (both chords of each pair, not only the second one of each); (3) WTC II fugues in E minor, A minor, and B-flat minor; (4) the third and fourth of the Duetti, BWV 804-5; (5) all of the harpsichord concertos (BWV 1052-8) have many wedges in them. >
Brad, I've checked all of these in the NBA and have discovered not a single wedge anywhere in your references. All I could find were dots, and in two instances, BWV 889, BWV 891 (WTC II) not even dots were indicated. It seems that you may be using editions that have not been updated to include the most recent scholarship. In any case, wedges are much more unusual than one would think.

In regard to your points on 14) practicality and 19) projection and 24) more..."One can always improve one's performance next time, it's a lifelong process of gathering experience and resources," I am struck by the amount of agreement here between your thoughts and those of Alfred Dürr, who, in his NBA II/5 and KB of the SMP, comes to the conclusion about the anomaly of the latest version of the full continuo part copied by anonymous 5 at some point in the very last years of Bach's life, a continuo part that has served as a cornerstone of the shortened/abbreviated long notes of the bc in secco recitatives theory, that this final version was changed from the later revised autograph of the score which shows long notes to include shortened note values only in the full continuo part (the only bc part that included the recitatives and a part not copied by Bach personally although he will have checked it over) because of "aufführungspraktische Bedingungen" ['conditions that make it necessary to take into consideration the practical aspects of performance' or to put it another way, Bach was trying to adjust his performance practices to the existing conditions which had changed from the earlier performances of the work.] It was a 'last-minute' decision and Bach's part, since the autograph score and the accompanying original parts had already undergone a major revision. For this 'final' performance during Bach's lifetime, only three of the 40 parts were redone. If Bach had kept the original parts (unfortunately they were discarded when the new substitutions were included) we might have been able to see definitely that this change was an anomaly. Dürr further surmises that Bach made this change in order to delineate the evangelist part more dramatically from the vox Christi.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 20, 2002):
<< Brad stated: Meanwhile, for some more examples of wedges in Bach, the
following examples come immediately to mind: (1) last page of Brandenburg #4, wedges for everybody on those shocking chords; (2) the F-major harpsichord arrangement of Brandenburg #4 (BWV 1057), same spot, even more of the notes have wedges in this version (both chords of each pair, not only the second one of each); (3) WTC II fugues in E minor, A minor, and B-flat minor; (4) the third and fourth of the
Duetti, BWV 804-5; (5) all of the harpsichord concertos (BWV 1052-8) have many wedges in them. >>
< Brad, I've checked all of these in the NBA and have discovered not a single wedge anywhere in your references. All I could find were dots, and in two instances, BWV 889, BWV 891 (WTC II) not even dots were indicated. It seems that you may be using editions that have not been updated to include the most recent scholarship. In any case, wedges are much more unusual than one would think. >
Interesting!

For the WTC, Duetti, Goldbergs, Italian , Partitas (& B minor Ouverture), English and French Suites I have the Henle edition: usually a pretty reliable Urtext edition. And for the Brandenburgs and other concertos I have the old Bach-Gesellschaft (reissued by Dover), again usually not horrible. I've worked with the NBA in many pieces that I studied seriously in grad school, but I don't currently have access to it except in my photocopies of those pieces.

I also have the Breitkopf edition (edited by Lohmann) of all the organ works, including many works not usually thought of as specifically "organ" works. A strange thing about this edition is that Lohmann is very careful with comparing all the sources and documenting things, BUT he (or Breitkopf?) changes all wedges to dots, as we noted here in an earlier discussion. Evidently they think that modern organists don't need to know of any notational distinction between wedges and dots...for example, in the aforementioned Duetti? Even though to some of us early-keyboard players a wedge and a dot typically suggest two very different sounds?

There are serious editorial issues here. In any of the above editions, or other "authoritative" editions for practical use or study, the editor has plenty of choices to make. If a work has multiple sources, does the editor choose a single source as the primary text or do a conflation of all of them (which is the policy of Musica Britannica, for example)? And which source is "better" than another as a primary reading, and why? Should an editor correct "mistakes" in a manuscript (for example, in the Corpus of Early Keyboard Music series, it's a policy not to, but simply to reproduce everything and let the user decide what to do)?

Has anyone done a serious study of wedges vs dots in Bach? I don't know, but that would seem to be important...not only in the autographs and original prints, but also in the handwritten copies by others. Perhaps even reflecting changes in the musical taste of those societies?

In the bigger picture, I think this confirms my point: even with the most careful consideration of the sources, looking for every little marking (or absence) in the score, "fidelity" to such a score's markings is still a relatively minor priority among all the things a performer must consider. It's very important to do this study, yes; but the establishment of an "authoritative" score still doesn't give us much detail about how the music should actually sound.

Even though the NBA is a very good edition, reflecting the latest scholarship, I don't think it's wise to take it (or any other modern edition) as any sort of gospel truth of Bach's intentions. These editions are products of their own time, just as their predecessors were. The 20th century, even more than the 19th, was an age of scientific scrutiny where "truth" could be (supposedly) obtained through enough careful research into detail (in all fields, not only music). Musical editions and recorded performances often tended toward this goal of pseudo-objectivity, as if that brings us closer to the music itself. I suggest that that pursuit, while enlightening, is a dead end if it becomes the main or only arbiter of musicality. The notes are not the music, even if all those notes are delivered perfectly with all the "correct" articulations and emphases according to scientific scholarship; music is much more than the sum of its notes.

(This weekend I encountered another recent recording where all notes are delivered "correctly" and with wonderful technical polish, good tempos, a scientific perfection, and yet the music sounds lifeless and boring, for all that perfectly assembled surface. It's Podger's set of the sonatas and partitas for violin. It's flawless in all those ways, yet unsatisfying, at least to me; I'll stick with Matthews and some others when I want to be *moved* by these works, wanting to hear more spontaneity and grace that go far beyond the notes....)

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 20, 2002):
Brad Lehman stated:
< There are serious editorial issues here. In any of the above editions, or other "authoritative" editions for practical use or study, the editor has plenty of choices to make. If a work has multiple sources, does the editor choose a single source as the primary text or do a conflation of all of them (which is the policy of Musica Britannica, for example)? And which source is "better" than another as a primary reading, and why? Should an editor correct "mistakes" in a manuscript (for example, in the Corpus of Early Keyboard Music series, it's a policy not to, but simply to reproduce everything and let the user decide what to do)? >
This is why the NBA edition with its accompanying KB's is the ideal edition to turn to: it actually reveals 'everything that is out there.' Obviously, a final editorial choice has to be made based not on the whim of the person or persons involved in editing a volume of the NBA, but rather on an editorial policy which has among its rules or common assumptions the notion that the latest autograph version (sometimes the original set of parts which are rarely copied out completely by Bach, but rather my his 'little army' of copiers) represents the 'final intention' of the composer. I can see how an editor might cringe at times in following this dictum when it is quite obvious that an original solo instrument part in a cantata when first composed and performed is later changed to different instrument in the same range because Bach could not find an adequate player for a performance many years later. In many instances, when both the original instrument part and the later version part are available for inspection, the NBA will print the original part as a supplement so that it is readily available.

The problem with the numerous "Urtext" editions, as you have found out, is the sheer lack of information available about all the other sources while the editor adheres to one source that has been chosen to be the 'most reliable' in the mind of the editor. In this regard, Thurston Dart's Editorial Method in the Musica Britannica comes closest to the NBA in that "a conflated text is preferable to a text exactly reproducing the idiosyncrasies of a single manuscript." But Dart also states, "To have reproduced all the anomalies of all the manuscripts would have overloaded the text to no purpose; it would also have defeated the object of this edition, which is to present music ready to be played and enjoyed, while at the same time providing the scholar with all the information that he can reasonably expect. No Textual Commentary, however elaborate and detailed, can ever replace the study of the original documents at first hand...." Here is precisely where the two editorial policies !
(NBA vs. Musica Britannica) diverge: To spare the additional cost of producing significant amounts of additional text commentary, Dart had decided to leave it up to the scholar to go to special libraries where these original documents can be found, while the NBA, faced with an even greater amount of material for each work that Bach produced, immediately decided to provide complete documentation in the form of addition books, the KB's [Kritische Berichte]. With the NBA final, printed version of the music in hand along with the KB's, anyone can reconstruct any of the existing versions because all of these details have been meticulously noted. There is no attempt to hide anything here or to send a seriously interested party on an extensive hunt to numerous archival collections of Bach's works to find out what information might have been overlooked. Even Bach's corrections are duly noted with the before and after versions. A performer is able to make valid decisions based on thoro!
ugh information of this type.

"...simply to reproduce everything and let the user decide what to do" -- this is exactly what the NBA with the KB allows the user to do. Unfortunately, I am slowly becoming aware of the fact that even musicologists [Hochreither, Dreyfus, for example] do not always take the time to read these reports carefully as they should.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 20, 2002):
[To Thomas B] I agree with everything you've said in this message. With the NBA and its KB in hand, one can plot a path through the forest of versions. (As is also true of Lohmann's organ edition, for the most part, since it too has a KB.)

BUT: Baerenreiter has also published the set of offprints from the NBA, those blue volumes proclaimed as "Urtext of the New Bach Edition", reproducing the scores but not the KB of the NBA. (Correct me if I'm wrong in remembering that; the one volume I have is the one of the Neumeister chorales, and it has a preface but no KB; and obviously, they're working from only one manuscript in this case.) So, the enterprising performer buys these handy and lower-priced blue volumes and plays through them, and voila, we're back in the same boat where the editor's choice of text has biased the performer. It's an "Urtext" and from the highly-acclaimed NBA, the pinnacle of modern Bach scholarship, so it must be "right" and authoritative, yes?

And without that KB the performer has the same problem as with any other "Urtext" edition, being at the mercy of the editor's choices and learning the piece from this score. The KB is available if one has ready access to a good academic library, or the funds to buy it oneself, but I'd say "most" performers are going to have access only to these Urtext scores and not much exposure to the KB unless making a special effort. (An effort worth making, ideally, but under the time crunches or other requirements of some gigs it's not always worth it.)

The notion of "Urtext" biases people to assume the work of textual criticism is already done; or if not absolutely done, as nearly "done" as one needs to prepare a performance. That's a major draw of buying an Urtext in the first place, as opposed to facsimiles or preparing one's own performing edition from other sources: it's a huge shortcut through all the scholarly problems. And a performer doesn't necessarily *want* to be a scholar, or to be forced to be a scholar, when the goal is to play the music.

And, even though the NBA is about the best edition available, the series has taken so long to come out that the scholarship of the first-issued volumes is already a couple of generations out of date. There is always more to learn, even in such an authoritative project.

-----

As an aside: even a facsimile edition from an original Bach print can be misleading. For example, when the set of keyboard Partitas was issued in facsimile, the pages were fine in themselves...but the page turns were different! Right-hand pages were on the left side, and vice versa. Therefore, a possibly informative feature of the original print was inadvertently hidden: the possibility that the movement ordering in partitas 4 and 6 had the arias before the sarabandes (rather than at the more normal position, after them) to accommodate original page turns, even though the sarabandes should be played first! [Playing through the partita, you finish the courante and turn a page to go into the sarabande; then you turn back for the shorter aria or air that is filling otherwise blank space from the courante spread; then you go on after that. This scheme from the original print means there are never any page turns during a movement, and it's convenient for the player. But this is all destroyed if the pages are on the wrong sides.] The book of Partitas, in the time of Bach, cost as much as a harpsichord. Space on the page was at a super-premium; these short arias were fit in cleverly in the places where they fit best, rather than typesetting another page or putting the page turns into inconvenient places.

So, all these latter-day Urtext editions come along, and the editors faithfully reproduce the sequence of movements reading straight through, and everybody learns the Partitas with those movements in the "wrong" order! And a glance at the modern facsimile from the original print doesn't help because of the pagination mixup.

[All this business about the Partita movements is said much better in the article by Karel Louwenaar, 1982, Journal of the Southeast Historical Keyboard Society; I'm just reproducing the arguments here from memory, and from the notes about this in Parmentier's recording. I do have a copy of Louwenaar's article somewhere in my files, but those files are a mess....]

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 20, 2002):
< (...) the possibility that the movement ordering in partitas 4 and 6 had the arias before the sarabandes (rather than at the more normal position, after them) to accommodate original page turns, even though the sarabandes should be played first! [Playing through the partita, you finish the courante and turn a page to go into the sarabande; then you turn back for the shorter aria or air that is filling otherwise blank space from the courante spread; then you go on after that. This scheme from the original print means there are never any page turns during a movement, and it's convenient for the player. But this is all destroyed if the pages are on the wrong sides.] The book of Partitas, in the time of Bach, cost as much as a harpsichord. Space on the page was at a super-premium; these short arias were fit in cleverly in the places where they fit best, rather than typesetting another page or putting the page turns into inconvenient places.
So, all these latter-day Urtext editions come along, and the editors faithfully reproduce the sequence of movements reading straight through, and everybody learns the Partitas with those movements in the "wrong" order! And a glance at the modern facsimile from the original print doesn't help because of the pagination mixup. >
And, to play devil's advocate against myself before somebody else does: it's just as possible that Bach's order of the movements in these partitas is really what he wanted. Perhaps he saw that there was going to be some free space on the page after these courantes, so rather than wasting that space he composed a new little movement to poke into there, intending it to be performed where it stands.

After all, the early version of the partita #6 (in the Anna Magdalena Book) doesn't have this Air. That's new. The print doesn't necessarily tell us exactly where it should be played, but it suggests that it's now part of this partita after Bach revisited his earlier manuscript, preparing it for publication.

The performer has to choose a sequence of movements first, and then decide how to play them together convincingly in that sequence. Every moment affects every other as the suite flows forward....

-----

Something I learned just this week about the French Suites, while reading a book about dance: in some of the manuscripts, in the suites in B minor, C minor, and E major, the minuets are placed after the gigues.

"Modern editions of the suites generally do not mention this matter of placement. The Neue Bach-Ausgabe is not helpful because it is based on the Altnikol manuscript of about 1750, in which minuets always precede gigues. On this evidence it is reasonable for modern performers to put the minuets last if they so desire. However, the placement of the minuet may affect the tempo of the gigue. A gigue in the final position will generally sound better in a faster, gayer tempo, while in another position it may be taken somewhat more slowly so as to contrast with the minuet coming last." - p78-79, Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 21, 2002):
Brad stated and quoted:
< Something I learned just this week about the French Suites, while reading a book about dance: in some of the manuscripts, in the suites in B minor, C minor, and E major, the minuets are placed *after* the gigues.
"Modern editions of the suites generally do not mention this matter of placement. The Neue Bach-Ausgabe is not helpful because it is based on the Altnikol manuscript of about 1750, in which minuets always precede gigues. On this evidence it is reasonable for modern performers to put the minuets last if they so desire. However, the placement of the minuet may affect the tempo of the gigue. A gigue in the final position will generally sound better in a fa, gayer
tempo, while in another position it may be taken somewhat more slowly so as to contrast with the minuet coming last." - p78-79, Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach by Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne. >
This seems to be a rather confusing statement (for me, at least): The NBA uses the Altnickol manuscript which is dated not before 1744 and not after 1759 and with a more probable date at the beginning of the 1750's; and because (on this evidence provided by the Altnickol manuscript) of this, a modern performer should find it reasonable to put the minuets last if they so desire. The logic of this statement eludes me entirely.

In regard to the order of the minuet mvts. in the French Suites, BWV 812-817, the NBA V/8 KB devotes 3 whole pages of fine print discussion as it takes into account all the extant versions, including Bach's own clean copy of Suites 1-5. As you can see, many musicologists make "Urtext" assumptions about the NBA without actually reading the KB's.

< BUT: Baerenreiter has also published the set of offprints from the NBA, those blue volumes proclaimed as "Urtext of the New Bach Edition", reproducing the scores but not the KB of the NBA. (Correct me if I'm wrong in remembering that; the one volume I have is the one of the Neumeister chorales, and it has a preface but no KB; and obviously, they're working from only one manuscript in this case.) So, the enterprising performer buys these handy and lower-priced blue volumes and plays through them, and voila, we're back in the same boat where the editor's choice of text has biased the performer. It's an "Urtext" and from the highly-acclaimed NBA, the pinnacle of modern Bach scholarship, so it must be "right" and authoritative, yes? >
I do not have any of these 'blue' volumes of the 'Urtext of the New Bach Edition." I can only assume that it would be printed with the same image as that contained in the NBA. It is often the case that the NBA will be working from only one manuscript if they consider the source more reliable than any other. But all other sources are considered and any deviations by other important sources are noted in the 'Special Notes' section of each KB.

Think of it this way: beginning on the level of the 'pinnacle of modern Bach scholarship' and working from this base which has been prepared with as unbiased a view as possible, and then allowing the modern performer to investigate further as needed is better than beginning at a lower level and assimilating information that is less reliable, which then has to be revised and overcome.

< The notion of "Urtext" biases people to assume the work of textual criticism is already done; or if not absolutely done, as nearly "done" as one needs to prepare a performance. That's a major draw of buying an Urtext in the first place, as opposed to facsimiles or preparing one's own performing edition from other sources: it's a huge shortcut through all the scholarly problems. And a performer doesn't necessarily want to be a scholar, or to be forced to be a scholar, when the goal is to play the music. >
An imperfect analogy would be the use of certain computer programs, like database programs, that are set up to work as well as they can in general circumstances, but occasionally a computer user might want to use this program differently which would involve getting into the nitty-gritty and finding out what really is going on 'behind' the program or 'under the surface.' But you are right - the assumption about the 'Urtext' does cause many musical performers not to consider investigating in greater detail, which they should do if they are really serious about the music.

< And, even though the NBA is about the best edition available, the series has taken so long to come out that the scholarship of the first-issued volumes is already a couple of generations out of date. There is always more to learn, even in such an authoritative project. >
You are probably referring to NBA II/1 KB for BWV 232 (B minor Mass) prepared by Friedrich Smend and published in 1956. It is unfortunate, and perhaps to be expected, that many people are quick to throw out the child with the bathwater because subsequent scholarship has revised Smend's notion regarding the unity of this work, but in the 416 fine-print pages of the KB there is, nevertheless, solid scholarship with great attention to detail. The implication seems to be that Smend's KB is outdated, and hence, useless. These individuals have forgotten that most facts contained in the KB are reliable and true. There have not been new sources discovered that would invalidate or seriously put into question what Smend presented there.

< As an aside: even a facsimile edition from an original Bach print can be misleading. For example, when the set of keyboard Partitas was issued in facsimile, the pages were fine in themselves...but the page turns were different! >
There is an inherent danger in working from a facsimile, because there is no recourse for comparison with all the other important sources. This is what the KB's provide: the necessary overview, a checking out of all possible sources. The NBA editors discovered changes in the various printings of the Partitas. How can a performer using a facsimile of just one of these be able to draw a proper conclusion from such limited evidence as a copy/facsimile of a single printed version? Facsimiles are just as 'dangerous' as 'Urtexts' in that they cause the user/musical performer to become lazy. As Kant once stated, "Man, by nature, is inherently lazy." A facsimile user thinks, "This is it! This is as original as I can get the music." If the mvts. appear out of order without special notation, the user will not know the difference. As far as Bach's use of all available space: there are numerous instances in his autograph scores for the cantatas, where mvts. are placed to make the best use of all the space available on the page (or to avoid an unnecessary page turn, so why would he not do the same with the printed music that he closely supervised? All information of this sort would be discussed in the KB's.

Roy Johansen wrote (August 21, 2002):
< Brad wrote: Has anyone done a serious study of wedges vs dots in Bach? I don't know, but that would seem to be important...not only in the autographs and original prints, but also in the handwritten copies by others. Perhaps even reflecting changes in the musical taste of those societies? >
The only "authority" I can think of off the top of my head is CPE Bach in his 'Essay'. He seems to pretty much equate the two: "When notes are to be detached from each other strokes or dots are placed above them, as illustrated in Figure 166 [the illustration shows wedges rather than strokes]. The latter indication has been used in the Lessons in order to avoid a confusion of the strokes with fingering numerals."

Howard Ferguson writes that "The sign for a staccato was either a small stroke or a wedge as staccato dots were not introduced until later in the [18th] century." Ferguson also writes, quoting Beethoven, that wedges and dots are not identical, but, in light of CPE's statement, this distinction appears be a later development.

In his discussion of strokes/wedges/dots and slurs, CPE also makes a couple of other, interesting statements: "It is a convenient custom to indicate by appropriate marks only the first few of prolonged successions of detached or legato notes, it being self-evident that all of the tones are to be played similarly until another kind of mark intervenes." --And then this doozie: "Tones which are neither detached, connected, nor fully held are sounded for half their value, unless the abbreviation Ten. (hold) is written over them, in which case they must be held fully. Quarters and eights in moderate and slow tempos are usually performed in this semidetached manner. They must not be played weakly, but with fire and accentuation."

This is interesting compared, again, to Ferguson's 'Keyboard Interpretation' where he quotes from an 1821 'Wiener Pianoforte Schule' by one Friedrich Starke, stating that notes are to be held for a quarter of thewritten value when stroked or wedged, and half the written value when dotted. The latter he calls "normal staccato".

Perhaps Gould's organ KdF is closer to period performance practices than we (myself included) would like to believe? :)

Neil [Bach Lover] wrote (August 21, 2002):
[To Roy Johansen] I have 2 editions of the WTC: Book 1, Peters, and Book 2, Augener.

The Peters has practically no dots, wedges, slurs (and certainly no phrasing), whereas the Augener is full of them, presumably designed for performance on piano.

In this day and age, isn't a competent artist better off with the Peters, thus having an opportunity to present this music in a way which may enable him to even achieve fame for himself?

I would have thought a search for an accurate text would be limited to the correct notes being printed; surely Bach himself changed the 'note values' and other dynamics when he performed the same music on different keyboard instruments and even maybe different occasions.

I personally dislike Harnoncourt's SMP (BWV 244) chorales, for their shortening of the last notes of the phrase; but I will give him the freedom to present the music this way, and let the audience judge, rather than attempting to establish a text which purports to express the infallible and perfect 'Word of God'.

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 21, 2002):
[To Roy Johansen] Yes: CPE is being pedagogical here. He is describing a basic default touch for the harpsichord and clavichord: a bit of air-space after each note. This is sort of a "Harpsichord 101" point on how to bring clarity to the musical texture, cultivating this touch. It's also the way people speak phrases and sentences, with some degree of spacing between the words. And it's furthermore a default touch on the organ, as well, especially when the room has live acoustics; the tones will sound at least semi-connected by the time they reach the position of the listeners, even if they sound sharply detached to anyone near the keyboard. Keyboard fingering treatises take this into account as far back as the 16th century; a semi-detached touch is a norm, and the clever deployment of strong and weak fingers is part of that too.

Frankly, one has to play semi-detached on any instrument (keyboard or otherwise) if the performance space is a live room. The flexible performer develops the ability to vary this basic touch as needed, according to the acoustics. For example, when I practice at home I tend to hold all the notes somewhat longer than 1/2 value, while still having space between them, because my room doesn't have much resonance...it is necessary to hold the notes a little longer to give them more warmth. If I take the same harpsichord out to a big church with a couple seconds of reverb, I have to play everything shorter. It's all to taste, of course. CPE is merely giving the beginner a
good place to start, half the notated value.

Then the musical content can also determine departures from this basic touch. According to the rhythmic profile, the musical grammar, the words (if any), the dance form, the harmony, the degree of surprise, the melodic surface, etc one might vary the length of each note making it longer or shorter according to the needs of that moment. Or the composer might notate a special touch, whether it's a dot or a wedge or a slur or whatever. (For example, in some of the French harpsichord repertoire a slur means one should overhold all the notes beyond their notated value, smearing them together into a sensuous effect, akin to the way a modern pianist would pedal them all together.) Every composer's notation is somewhat different, and all the other contextual clues can also be different for every composition, every moment...hence that huge list of things the performer must consider, that list that I spelled out at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm

Back to the issue of that basic detached touch: Gould's organ technique in the KdF recording indeed has an extraordinary clarity; especially since they miked him more closely (his choice) than a listener's normal position in that church. He was trained as an organist when young, and that's a basic feature of organ touch. Of course, Gould being Gould, he modified it according to his artistic sensitivities; he wanted to project even more clarity than one would normally hear in an organ recording, so he played the notes more detached than normal touch and he had the mikes in close.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 21, 2002):
Brad Lehman stated:
< Yes: CPE is being pedagogical here. He is describing a basic default touch for the harpsichord and clavichord: a bit of air-space after each note. This is sort of a "Harpsichord 101" point on how to bring clarity to the musical texture, cultivating this touch. It's also the way people speak phrases and sentences, with some degree of spacing between the words. And it's furthermore a default touch on the organ, as well, especially when the room has live acoustics; the tones will sound at least semi-connected by the time they reach the position of the listeners, even if they sound sharply detached to anyone near the keyboard. Keyboard fingering treatises take this into account as far back as the 16th century; a semi-detached touch is a norm, and the clever deployment of strong and weak fingers is part of that too. >
Gerber (one of Bach's music students) [Bach-Dokumente, item 949] describes Bach's organ playing in contrast with another important organist with whom Bach had been acquainted, Christoph Gottlieb Schröter, as follows: "Wer aber die vortreflich gebundene Manier kennt, mit welcher Sebastian Bach die Orgel behandelte, dem konnte Schröters Manier unmöglich gefallen, indem er [this definitely refers back to Schröter and not Bach] seine Orgel durchaus staccato traktirte." ["Anyone who is acquainted with the superior, legato manner, in which Bach played the organ would never find any pleasure in Schröter's way of playing because the latter plays the organ with a thoroughly/continuous detached (staccato) style,"] and "daß es ihm [Bach] nicht schwer fiel die größten Schwierigkeiten mit der fließensten Leichtigkeit herauszubringen" ["Bach was able to perform the most difficult keyboard parts with a flowing lightness."] It would appear from statements such as this that a predominant characteristic of Bach's keyboard playing style, at least as heard by his own music students, was predominantly legato and easy flowing as opposed to your gamut of variations from 'just a bit of air-space' all the way to serious shortening of the note values when not marked with dots or wedges.

Since the above testimony relates directly to Bach's organ playing in a large church, a situation where you would most certainly recommend a detached style of playing, these statements appear to be even more remarkable!

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 30, 2011 ý13:33:08