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OVPP (One-Voice-Per-Part)

Part 14

 

 

Continue from Part 13

OVPP [BCML]

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 14, 2004):
Douglas Cowling stated:
>I'm not convinced that Bach's singers were ordinary "demi-voix".
Nor am I, and nor was Agricola, one of Bach’s students (see below)

Johan van Veen:
>Mr Braatz was't talking about Bach's singers, but about modern interpreters. 'Demi-voix' or 'half-voices' is his buzz word to show his contempt for singers he doesn't like. The idea that HIP singers have 'demi-voix' is a pure invention on his part. What's new? We have heard it umpteen times before. Is there anyone who is still interested?<<
Dr Bradley Lehman, B.A., A.M., M.M., A.Mus.D. (like the Lorax, speaking in defense of the living beings who are the targeted victims of such evil) stated:
>>Why these destructive role models should be emulated by list members, in their regular behavior here (their personal crusades of disrespect launched against performers and scholars, instead of discussing Bach's music), is known only to themselves. But those same patterns of contempt, self-importance, and entitlement are obvious: even their techniques are the same, in the attacks they launch. If the music isn't delivered as they prefer (as if their own preferences and expectations are the only things that should matter), they lash out against the messengers (performers/scholars). They obviously believe they understand everything better than anyone else has a right to do, and better than trained and experienced messengers do.<<
The problem here is that the latter two comments profess to having expert knowledge which they do not, because they have not studied (or is it adequately studied in order to understand?) such an important historical source as Johann Friedrich Agricola’s “Anleitung zur Singkunst” [Berlin, 1757], a translation and extensive commentary of Pier Francesco Tosi’s “Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni.” Since Agricola had a direct connection as student/performer under Bach’s direction over a number of years in Leipzig, his comments on singing in the ‘German style’ are quite important for anyone who wishes to understand how good singing was taught and properly executed, as it must have been under Bach’s direction.

Although the term ‘demi-voix’, ‘Halbstimme,’ ‘half-voice’ [the New Grove describes one such famouse HIP singer very kindly using the term ‘small voice’] is not used as such in this book [remember that Bach never used the term ‘secco recitative’ or even ‘cantata’ in referring to most of his Sunday cantatas,] it, nevertheless, can be used to describe generally the type of voices commonly found singing Bach arias many HIP ensembles. There are, of course, exceptions to this observation, as Juozas Rimas as pointed out (Pregardien).

Agricola describes the nature of a good singing voice as one that has nearly equal power/volume throughout the entire range of the voice. The opposite of such a desirable voice is one where problems occur, usually at one of the extreme ends of the range. He describes in detail the ‘shifting’ over into a falsetto-type voices which must be done properly, but he also points out the serious problems facing the singer ‘when the bottom drops out’ and very little sound/volume, and hence, expression can be heard in the low range of the voice. Such a voice is barely functioning when Bach writes an aria with a low tessitura. The problem usually is, however, that Bach, who knew his voices so well, often composed for the full range of notes available to him. This is very challenging, particularly for current singers who may have been trained to sing with limited expectations because of the erroneous notion that Baroque instruments playing OPPP are much, much softer (have less volume) than modern instruments. While the general comparison between the two types of instruments may be true, too much has been made of the difference between them (think only of the comparison between the trombae and the modern trumpet) thus exaggerating the difference in volume specifically on the HIP end.

It seems ironic that those degreed individuals who are ‘locked into’ holding on dearly to untenable theories, in this case, one which excuses many HIP singers for actual vocal debilities that may not be easily overcome even with further training and one which chooses instead to elevate them as being great artists whose vocal production is to be extolled and held up as a model to be emulated by other singers, are the same degreed individuals who claim great artistic freedom for the performing artists, who in this instance, do not even possess the necessary wherewithal to bring about truly moving performances of Bach’s music. What good is ‘artistic freedom of interpretation’ if the instruments (such as Bach’s trombae and trombae playing which were recently discussed) are still lacking in perfection and the human voice, the greatest instrument of all, is treated without much respect for the possibilities which Bach had built into the music. Why should inferior voices be fostered and illogically protected and defended by experts who ought to know better and perhaps should listen more carefully to the results that such ‘demi-voix’ are putting before the listening public?

Johan van Veen wrote (June 14, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] I am really asking myself why I bother to reply to these views which are entirely based on personal prejudices, and not on any logical conclusions from the sources which the writer prefers to flood this newsgroup with.

The whole problem is that Mr Braatz simply doesn't see the difference between abilities and artistic choices. If in a performance a singer doesn't sound powerful throughout the entire range of the voice, he hastily concludes that this is the result of technical deficiencies, since he cannot imagine that a singer - or a musical director - would ever choose to perform that way and deliberately not makes use of the power of his/her voice in all registers.

The statements denying the difference in volume between baroque and modern instruments are missing the point completely.

What matters in pre-romantic music is not the sheer volume of the sound of voices and instruments, but things like penetration - which has nothing to do with volume; soft voices can be extremely penetrating -, the colouring, the flexibility, the phrasing and articulation. It is the text which matters most, and it is a gross misunderstanding to believe that the louder a singer sings the better the text is communicated.

This is not just a matter of performance practice of baroque music, it is even more a matter of communication in general.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 14, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Very well said, Johan. Clarity is of the essence, in all forms of communication, and this example by you is an excellent one.

John Pike wrote (June 15, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Why do you persist in these inexcusable criticisms of top professional musicians. Isn't it clear to you that virtually no serious observer in the professional music world would have any sympathies whatsoever with your views, since many (if not most) of these HIP recordings (and the singers involved) which you dismiss in such pejorative terms have been widely acclaimed by the real experts and given such pleasure to many millions of people?

I have tried very hard for a few weeks to be as generous as possible to you and Charles on this list, in an attempt to encourage all-round harmony, but judging by your last posting directed at me, this policy has clearly failed, and Charles' most recent postings have been beneath contempt.

John Pike wrote (June 15, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] Absolutely. I have spoken to people who know about Sir John Eliot Gardiner's auditioning of singers. It is a very exacting process, apparently, and those who do not meet his exceptionally high standards are told so unambiguously. Those who do make it through are the very best around. I am more inclined to trust Sir John's judgement than that of Mr Braatz.

Johan van Veen wrote (June 15, 2004):
John Pike wrote: >>The second was to encourage thought, not to insult you, so why did you find it necessary to send such an unpleasant e mail in return.<<
It's the force of habit.

>>Why do you persist in these inexcusable criticisms of top professional musicians. Isn't it clear to you that virtually no serious observer in the professional music world would have any sympathies whatsoever with your views, since many (if not most) of these HIP recordings (and the singers involved) which you dismiss in such pejorative terms have been widely acclaimed by the real experts and given such pleasure to many millions of people?
I have tried very hard for a few weeks to be as generous as possible to you and Charles on this list, in an attempt to encourage all-round harmony, but judging by your last posting directed at me, this policy has clearly failed, and Charles' most recent postings have been beneath contempt.<<
Welcome to the real world of BachCantatas.

Every time you think some contributors can't sink any lower. But they continue to prove you wrong.

Boyd Person wrote (June 16, 2004):
OVPP (what controversy?)

[To John Pike] Thank you for posting the link to the Jeff Grossman article on the One Voice Per Part "controversy." That Jeff Grossman article was inconclusive. Is it that he didn't want to have an opinion? Strange. Though the article is rather inert, it did prompt me to reply in BCML. Some of my points refer to material in the Jeff Grossman article.

I read Parrot's book, and it did to me the opposite of the author's intention. Mr. Parrot's arguments convinced me that he was wrong regarding OVPP.

Firstly, it is plan to see that Bach wrote that the best musical situation was 16 choir singers and 18 instrumental musicians. This is consistent with other old choir records- some to this day (like English choirs) maintain personnel according to the wording of their original mandates that between 10-16 boys were the norm for choirs in Bach's day all over Europe.

Secondly, Some Baroque performances used double or triple choirs for between 36-50 singers like Handel did in England. So, Mr. Parrot is flatly wrong in saying small choirs were the norm in Bach's day. Also, iconography does not support Mr. Parrot's assertions, for one among many instances I have found an engraving from 1730 that shows 22 boys and men singing in choir in a funeral procession in Leipzig in Bach's day.

Third, no OVPP advocates use Lutheran church practices in their arguments, which would tend against OVPP and favor many voices per part. Christian Gerber in 1732 noted the hugeness of the large scale Passion music of his (Bach's) time; sometimes 12 violins and many oboes, bassoons and other instruments, and whole congregations joining in on the chorales!

Last, C.L. Stieglitz chairman of the Thomas School wrote that "44 boys" are needed for service singing in the churches... that is exactly the number of singers indicated by Bach in 4 choirs. Mr. Parrott argues that only 10 singers are by Bach listed as "usable" in music in a letter to the school board, BUT those were candidates for open spots for boarding at the St Thomas school. That is the stated purpose of that letter. Boarding was primarily for students from outside of Leipzig. Those vacant boarding spots were only to be awarded to candidates who show good musical ability according to Bach. The rest of any choir members or musicians were boarded with relatives in the greater Leipzig community. One of Bach's own Nephews was sent by Bach to board with his relatives in a town instead of boarding at the school in that town. Mr. Parrott's gymnastics in reading into what Bach wrote do not convince me.

The fact that there is only one music copy per part for Bach cantatas probably means these are master copies from which students, musicians and singers copy their own parts for study and use.

By the way, boys' voices generally changed at 15 years old back in Bach's day, contrary to today's popular belief in the 17 year old soprano myth. Of the latter Bach mentions none in his student voice assessments. However, Bach notes that a singer named Schemelli frequently visited and sang soprano at the St Thomas school. Schemelli was singing at St Thomas between the ages of 18-21. This means he was singing falsetto, adding a dimension of tone to Bach's music probably not unlike one finds among adult male sopranos today.

Again, I don't know why any controversy at all continues when Bach told us what ideal size that his vocal and instrumental forces should be. Mr. Parrott and his supporters have nothing better to do to make themselves the topic of discussion. The fact that John Butt became involved in any "debate" is unfortunate. Mr. Butt's rehabilitation of the OVPP problem of dead characters remaining to sing other parts, that being some unique spiritual explanation of Christ's divinity and role in resurrection, is a stretch.


Confession

Sw Anandgyan wrote (October 2, 2004):
Here's my personal observation, I'm not too keen to debate the proper historical place of the One-Voice-Per-Part but it's a reality in the world of recordings. So.

Whenever I've indulged in a Bach oeuvre and 'reached' the McCreesh rendition of the SMP or Junghänel's way with the MBM; I've always been stunned and hardly accustomed to the minimal forces. And shame on me ...

Whenever I put on the Scholars Baroque CDs on the player, I was not demanding, I was not holding them in high esteem and just enjoyed their 'roughness' and kept on listening to their SJP and the Motets and got to enjoy the simplicity.

I read in a French magazine how Philippe Herreweghe would not do the same thing with his Monteverdi's Vespers and would tend to go the smaller road.

Indeed, when it comes to this late Renaissance masterpiece there's the Scholars Baroque, the Cantus Cölln, Taverner Consort and the Tragicomedia with Concerto Palatino on the Atma label doing it the OVPP way and it's becoming more pleasant to my ears. It's different but I would not condemn them as I'm not as shocked as before.

The upcoming release of the Vespro Della Beata Vergine by Concerto Italiano shall be along the same approach. I'm excited about it.

It's being red in the face that I thank the Scholars Baroque Ensemble for stretching my appreciative disposition.


OVPP in the church

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 14, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote: "But still, I did feel the balance would have been improved in the choruses and chorales by a few extra singers. However, I'm willing to consider as an alternative that the orchestra was playing too loud."
Last May I attended a concert at the Nikolaikirche during the Bach Festival in Leipzig. Sigiswald Kuijken conducted his La Petite Bande ensemble in OVPP performance of Cantata BWV 10. The four singers were good to excellent, especially the soprano and the tenor. The balance between the voices in the choral movements was fine. The only problem was that the orchestra covered the voices during most of the choral parts. Were they playing too loud? I am not sure. I tend to think that this is an inherent problem of performing OVPP live. In the studio, a good engineer can easily overcome balance problems. In the church it is more problematic.

This idea raises another question. I do not recall reading in the endless discussions of OVPP (14+3 full long pages in the BCW only), any mention of how the OVPP sounded in a church as Nikolaikirche. After all this is one of the venues, in which J.S. performed regularly his cantatas.

I would appreciate if the members answer only this question. The OVPP topic has been already discussed to death.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 14, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote: < Last May I attended a concert at the Nikolaikirche during the Bach Festival in Leipzig. Sigiswald Kuijken conducted his La Petite Bande ensemble in OVPP performance of Cantata BWV 10. The four singers were good to excellent, especially the soprano and the tenor. The balance between the voices in the choral movements was fine. The only problem was that the orchestra covered the voices during most of the choral parts. Were they playtoo loud? I am not sure. I tend to think that this is an inherent problem of performing OVPP live. >
From the perspective of the audience/congregation, were the singers standing in front of or behind the orchestra?

Wish I could have been there to hear the concert; tantalizing. That's one of my favorite Baroque orchestras, and I wish they'd be recording more. It's already been 11 years since their excellent disc of cantatas BWV 82, BWV 49, BWV 58; and 20+ years since their B Minor Mass (BWV 232) (conducted by Leonhardt).

Uri Golomb wrote (December 14, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote: < The balance between the voices in the choral movements was fine. The only problem was that the orchestra covered the voices during most of the choral parts. Were they playing too loud? I am not sure. I tend to think that this is an inherent problem of performing OVPP live. In the studio, a good engineer can easily overcome balance problems. In the church it is more problematic. >
Not necessarily, in my opinion and experience. I've heard several concert performances in London in which a fine balance was achieved: Philip Pickett doing the B minor Mass 2-per-part in the Queen Elizabeth Hall; Paul McCreesh doing the SMP in St. John's Smith Square; the Purcell Quartet doing two "Lutheran" Masses and a few cantatas at the Wigmore Hall.

In fact, I remember hearing the Mass on two consecttive days -- Pickett with his 2-VPP and, a day later, Ivor Bolton conducting a standard chamber choir and orchestra at St. John's. The balance in Pickett's performance was BETTER than in Bolton's. (In other respects, I liked Bolton's version better, but in terms of sonority and balance, Pickett was superior).

I think it depends on several factors:
1. The hall. McCreesh's OVPP SMP worked great at ST. John's Smith Square, but not so well in the Barbican Hall (the London Symphony Orchestra's home) -- even though he had more singers in the Barbican... (In terms of balance, the difference between OVPP and 2VPP is negligible, as Parrott explains in The Essential Bach Choir: an extra single voice does not double the strength of the sound, but only increases it slightly. And many passages in Pickett's performance were OVPP anyway).

2. The placing of singers. Parrott et. al. advocate placing an OVPP group IN FRONT of the orchestra, not behind it. It does seem to help.

3. (maybe last, but certainly not least): The actual performance -- dynamics, articulation, timbres etc.

In any case, it IS possible to achieve a good vocal/instrumental balance in OVPP without the help of recording engineers. I've heard it done, several times. And in choral performances, the opposite danger exists: the main balance problem in Bolton's performance was the choir covering the orchestra, smothering lines in the orchestral texture. The balance should often be equal: if the orchestral lines are as interesting as the choral ones (as often happens in Bach), both types should be equally clear.

< This idea raises another question. I do not recall reading in the endless discussions of OVPP (14+3 full long pages in the BCW only), any mention of how the OVPP sounded in a church as Nikolaikirche. After all this is one of the venues, in which J.S. performed regularly his cantatas. >
Preliminary question (non-rhetorical): is the current acoustics in the Nikolaikirche the same as itw as in Bach's time? I know that the Thomaskirche has undergone re-building. If the same is true of the Nikolaikirche, then the current building has little relevance for the historical debate; if, on the other hand, the building has changed little since Bach's time, then it would indeed be an important experiment to try OVPP in that building, preferably placing singers and instrumentalists in similar locations to those they would have occupied in Bach's own performances. Perhaps this has already been done -- does any member know? I know that OVPP has been tried in churches that are ostensibly similar to the ones Bach knew. Perhaps even St. John's Smith Square in London qualifies, though I am not entirely sure about this. Again, the views of members -- particularly those who have experienced both SJSS and German Lutheran churches from the relevant period -- are welcome.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 14, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote: < In fact, I remember hearing the Mass on two consecttive days -- Pickett with his 2-VPP and, a day later, Ivor Bolton conducting a standard chamber choir and orchestra at St. John's. The balance in Pickett's performance was BETTER than in Bolton's. (In other respects, I liked Bolton's version better, but in terms of sonority and balance, Pickett was superior). >
Interesting. Most string players and singers say it's easier to sing/play one or three to a part, but that two to part makes it hard to tune.

As to projection, I would say that Baroque music always sounds better from a high rear gallery than from the chancel. My son gave a concert last Sunday in which the choir of 25 stood on the altar steps, yet when a quartet sang from the rear gallery the sound was measurably more focussed and projected the text better than the larger ensemble at the front.

John Pike wrote (December 14, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] There is quite a lot about the 2 churches mentioned in Christoph Wolff's book "JS Bach, the Learned Musician", including details of changes to buildings. I will check this up sometime.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 14, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote: >>The balance between the voices in the choral movements was fine. The only problem was that the orchestra covered the voices during most of the choral parts. Were they playing too loud? I am not sure. I tend to think that this is an inherent problem of performing OVPP live. In the studio, a good engineer can easily overcome balance problems. In the church it is more problematic.
This idea raises another question. I do not recall reading in the endless discussions of OVPP (14+3 full long pages in the BCW only), any mention of how the OVPP sounded in a church as Nikolaikirche. After all this is one of the venues, in which J.S. performed regularly his cantatas.<<
Aryeh, to begin to understand why OVPP probably was used rarely, if at all, by Bach in the St. Nicolai Church, please read my entry for May 9, 2003 (not quite half-way down the entire page of discussions regarding BWV 119, "Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn"): http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV119-D.htm

At that time I had already made reference to Arnold Schering's "Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik" [Leipzig, 1936] pp. 144 ff. Where Schering treats in detail Bach's 'space' problems for performing the SJP and BWV 119 at St. Nicholas's. Just a glance at the 'immense' orchestra which Bach assembled for such special occasions is sufficient to provide evidence against strictly OVPP performances in a church which was ranked foremost (above St. Thomas's) in the minds of citizens of Leipzig for all official occasions (visits by the king, by high dignitaries, by the newly elected city council, etc.) As recently shared with the BCML, a printed booklet of cantata texts demonstrates that, in general, the usual cantata performances for a given Sunday would take place alternatively in only one of the two main churches which might mean that roughly half of Bach's cantata performances did take place only at St. Nicholas's and that some of the most magnificent (large in number of performers used) performances took place only there and not at St. Thomas's.

Consider that Bach (in BWV 119, for instance) had to achieve a balance without the help of recording engineers and with instruments (4 trumpets, timpani, 2 violones, 2 violoncelli, 2 bassoons, organ, etc. etc,) which the audience will have wanted to observe while playing (latter comment made by Schering) and with the instrumentalists standing at the edge of the organ balcony (with the singers standing behind them? Or elsewhere?) Since we know definitely the minimum nof instruments, assuming for a moment, strictly according to Rifkin's theory, only one instrument per part participating in such a performance at St. Nicholas's, what does this tell us about the size of the choir involved? I, personally, am unable to imagine Bach restricting himself to only 4 or 8 singers in his choir.

Wolff, in his Bach biography "J. S. Bach: The Learned Musician" [Norton, 1999] p. 289 refers to the imagined acoustics of St. Nicolas's church, when performing BWV 243a as follows:

>>But even at St. Nicolas's, where the performing conditions did not permit this kind of stereophony [as at St. Thomas's], the double-choir structure of such an expanded Magnificat could not but produce a splendid and festive effect.<<

and p. 264:

>>The performances took place in the west end (rear) choir lofts of St. Thomas's and St. Nicholas's, both spacious, three-aisled, late-Gothic-hall churches whose interior design, however, was so drastically changed in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the original architectural features of the organ and choir lofts are no longer visible. At St. Nicholas's, the choir loft on the west wall of the church opened toward the center aisle, with the organ loft situated next to it, opening toward the south aisle; a connecting gallery bridged the gap between the two and provided space primarily for the instrumentalists.<<

Schering gives details with period illustrations regarding the before and after state of St. Nicholas's with the major renovation taking place during 1785-1786. There is no doubt that such a substantial renovation would affect the acoustics of the church, just as they would be affected by the major change in the various locations Bach used for his singers and instrumentalists compared to what it must look like today.

In 1790-1794 a new organ was installed by the Trampeli brothers. Later in 1862, a very romantic organ was installed by Ladegast. I have no information on Wolff's indication of another 'drastic' renovation/reconstruction of St. Nicholas's during the nineteenth century, just as I have no further information on the destruction and rebuilding of St. Nicolas's after WWII, all of which might have caused further changes in the acoustics of the church. Can anyone fill this in?

Coming back to your original question, Aryeh, it seems very unlikely that Bach would restrict himself to OVPP or perhaps only 2VPP, since the balance between voices and instruments (again assuming for Rifkin's and/or Parrott's sake only a single instrument per part) would be almost impossible to control with the voices either 'screaming' at the top of their lungs, or the instruments being instructed to play soft abnormally and unnaturally in order to achieve some sort of normal balance between them.

Johan van Veen wrote (December 14, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< 2. The placing of singers. Parrott et. al. advocate placing an OVPP group IN FRONT of the orchestra, not behind it. It does seem to help. >
Do you - or anyone else - know how the singers and instrumentalists were standing/sitting in Bach's time? They were placed at the balcony around the organ, I assume, but how exactly?

Doug Cowling wrote (December 14, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote: < This idea raises another question. I do not recall reading in the endless discussions of OVPP (14+3 full long pages in the BCW only), any mention of how the OVPP sounded in a church as Nikolaikirche. After all this is one of the venues, in which J.S. performed regularly his cantatas. >
I may be mistaken, but I remember reading somewhere that all of the Leipzig churches originally had galleries in the nave as well as little swallow-nest private galleries, but that many of them were removed in the 19th century, If so, that would have changed the length of reverberation drastically. In some churches, winds strings and voices were in quite distinct architectural spaces.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 14, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] The typical Romantic image of Bach at the organ with his adoring musicians around him is myth. Bach's sons said that he normally led his forces as concertmaster, leaving the continuo to one of his assistants. I would guess that he himself played the big concerted organ sinfonias in works such as Cantata BWV 12.

Handel, on the other hand, had a customized combination organ-harpsichord built which allowed him to play either or both by the means of couplers. It was portable too!

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 14, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < As recently shared with the BCML, a printed booklet of cantata texts demonstrates that, in general, the usual cantata performances for a given Sunday would take place alternatively in only one of the two main churches which might mean that roughly half of Bach's cantata performances did take place only at St. Nicholas's and that some of the most magnificent (large in number of performers used) performances took place only there and not at St. Thomas's. >
I have read several description of the cantata schedule that agree with that just noted by Mr. Braatz. However, in the liner notes to McCreesh's Bach's Epiphany Mass, written by McCreesh and Robin Leaver, there is a very different description. (The performance was to emulate the performance at St. Thomas' c.1740. It was not recorded there.) To avoid confusion I will quote:

"In Leipzig the cantata was usually heard twice each Sunday or feast day, once in each of the two main churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. If the cantata was heard in St. Thomas' at the Hauptgottesdienst or morning eucharist (in which the sermon would be on the gospel), it was repeated in the afternoon in St. Nicholas' at the service of vespers (Vesper) in which the sermon would be on the epistle."

As part of the CD McCreesh performs cantatas 180 (OVPP) and 65 with larger forces. Placement of musicians was as follows:

"This recording has tried to re-create the sound world of Bach's ensemble, especially in the use of chamber-size forces and in particular by the use of two extraordinarily fine historical organs of the style Bach would have recognized. The ensemble was arranged in a wooden gallery around the organ, in accordance withiconographic evidence, with the basso continuo group (including a harpsichord) immediately in front of the organ, and the strings to the left and woodwind to the right. The bells facing away from the congregation and the microphones.... The singers were placed around the organ in a semi-circle, slightly behind the instruments, but to the front of the gallery for arias and recitatives."

The liner notes also note that Leipzig was undergoing a periodic revival in Lutheran zeal in Bach's time and that the New Church and St. George's Church were both rebuilt and reopened early in the century to help the problem of overcrowding. If this was so, a very large number of people must have heard Bach perform his music and that of other's - probably more than ever heard Handel, Mozart or Beethoven live. I'll grant the price of the ticket was right (free with spiritual enlightenment as a bonus), but I should think performing for what, 3,000-4,000 every Sunday (half that if the cantatas were alternated which I had previously assumed) was no small matter would have kept Bach and his musicians on their toes. If you multiply this by 30 odd years the cumulative numbers had to have been very large, even considering the many "repeat customers."

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 14, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote: >>However, in the liner notes to McCreesh's Bach's Epiphany Mass, written by McCreesh and Robin Leaver, there is a very different description. (The performance was to emulate the performance at St. Thomas' c.1740. It was not recorded there.) To avoid confusion I will quote:
"In Leipzig the cantata was usually heard twice each Sunday or feast day, once in each of the two main churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. If the cantata was heard in St. Thomas' at the Hauptgottesdienst or morning eucharist (in which the sermon would be on the gospel), it was repeated in the afternoon in St. Nicholas' at the service of vespers (Vesper) in whithe sermon would be on the epistle."<<
This is true for all special church holidays (Feast Days of the liturgical calendar,) but not for regular Sundays as seen from the indication in the libretto booklet. So McCreesh and Leaver are right on if they apply this situation to Epiphany which is a very special liturgical holiday.

>>The ensemble was arranged in a wooden gallery around the organ, in accordance with iconographic evidence, with the basso continuo group (including a harpsichord) immediately in front of the organ, and the strings to the left and woodwind to the right.... The singers were placed around the organ in a semi-circle, slightly behind the instruments, but to the front of the gallery for arias and recitatives."<<

They must be using the wrong iconographic evidence if they are referring to St. Nicholas's, but perhaps at St. Thomas's this might have been possible. I will try to post as soon as possible more information about precisely what Bach had at his disposal at St. Nicholas's.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 14, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Mr. Leaver does say "each Sunday or feast day." Not much room for wiggle here. Unless someone did a very bad job of editing they are claiming cantatas were regularly given twice, not on special occassions. I will grant I was under the impression that the cantata alternated between churches. Do believe Leaver is a pretty big gun: wonder if there's yet another ambiguity here.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2004):
Yesterday I quoted from Christoph Wolff on p. 264 of his Bach biography where he stated regarding the facilities available to Bach at St. Nicholas's:
>>.a connecting gallery bridged the gap between the two and provided space primarily for the instrumentalists.<<

In order to judge whether this statement is possible in reality or whether it is imaginary, check out the description of St. Nicholas's in Leipzig. With Aryeh's kind assistance it has been placed on his Bach Cantatas Website at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Leipzig-Photos-Nikolai.htm

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 15, 2004):
>>…a connecting gallery bridged the gap between the two and provided space primarily for the instrumentalists.<<
< In order to judge whether this statement is possible in reality or whether it is imaginary, check out the description of St. Nicholas’s in Leipzig. With Aryeh’s kind assistance it has been placed on his Bach Cantatas Website at:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Leipzig-Photos-Nikolai.htm >

Owners and readers of The Essential Bach Choir by Andrew Parrott (Boydell Press, 2000) already have this and a dozen other salient illustrations in hand, along with a clear explanation that the OVPP and space-usage issues are not imaginary ones.
http://www.boydell.co.uk/51157866.HTM
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0851157866

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 15, 2004):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Leipzig-Photos-Nikolai.htm
< 2. The OVPP/OPPP theorists believe that the remaining existing parts dictate that only one person could sing or play from a single part.
The cramped and crowded conditions in the organ and choir lofts of St. Nicholas's mean that the space needed for displaying parts for reading from would be at a premium. The problems with lighting and heating would naturally force singers and players to stand closer to each other thus making it even more likely that two or three individuals might be reading from a single part. >
Logically, single singers (each holding his own part to sing from) would have the fewest lighting problems of all, and could also stand as close to or as far from another singer as heating considerations (or other) would offer.

The argument presented, therefore, is a non-argument against OVPP! Just looks like illogical rationalization to me, some attempt to force a foregone conclusion against OVPP.

Dale Gedcke wrote (December 15, 2004):
Potential Spam: RE: OVPP in the church

Earlier in this discussion sequence, several authors have pointed out the difficulty of hearing the singers over the orchestra, if a one-voice-per-part choir is used. It was mentioned that often the orchestra Bach used had several trumpets, an oboe d'amore, a number of string instruments and a harpsichord or organ.

Can an orchestra of such size play softly enough for the OVPP singers to be heard?

In today's vocal productions with orchestra accompaniment, microphones are almost always used to amplify the singer's volume advantage. However, that technology was not available for Bach, and also was not universally used 50 years ago.

Here is a practical example. In the 1950s, I played trumpet in several high school and college productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas. The orchestra typically had one trumpet, two French horns, one oboe, 4 or 5 violins, a viola, a cello, and a string contrabass, and sometimes a trombone, or perhaps a bassoon. The soloists did not use microphones. I distinctly remember the conductor often signaling me to play more pianissimo when the soloist was singing. As I became more sensitive and experienced, that signal was no longer necessary. The soloists could be heard very well above the orchestra!

Of course, the singers positioned themselves towards the front of the stage for their solo, and the orchestra was one meter lower on the floor in front of the stage.

I conclude that it should be possible to perform the cantatas in a live performance with OVPP and a small orchestra, and still hear the vocalists, .... without resorting to electronic amplification.

As they often demonstrate on a tour of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, the positioning of the performer relative to the acoustical properties of the theater is critical for efficiently transmitting the sound to the audience. I suspect that was also true of the churches in which Bach held his performances. But, I expect that OVPP was feasible.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 15, 2004):
Factual correction

On http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Tour/Leipzig-Photos-Nikolai.htm, the statement was made:
"The OVPP/OPPP theorists believe that the remaining existing parts dictate that only one person could sing or play from a single part".
No, they don't. In particular, the words "or play" in the aforequoted sentence are simply not true. Rifkin's claim is that singers in particular repertoires did not share parts, not that ALL musicians in ALL repertoires did not share parts. Neither Rifkin nor Parrott has ever stated that INSTRUMENTALISTS did not share parts. On the contrary: they repeatedly stated that string players DID share parts. It's disconcerting that, even though they stressed this point time and again, in the clearest possible terms, people still get confused on that issue.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote: >>Rifkin's claim is that singers in particular repertoires did not share parts, not that ALL musicians in ALL repertoires did not share parts.<<
This is the same kind of forced logic that has been used by another contributor to this list. You have stated it in such a way that it (OPPP) can not easily be proven wrong (with exceptions being possible in any case.) How about restating this to read that Rifkin and Parrott, according to the practices they employed in performing Bach cantatas generally restricted the players to one per part (many cantatas have additional 2nd-chair parts for violins and oboes - this would still be considered OPPP)?

>>Neither Rifkin nor Parrott has ever stated that INSTRUMENTALISTS did not share parts. On the contrary: they repeatedly stated that string players DID share
parts. It's disconcerting that, even though they stressed this point time and again, in the clearest possible terms, people stget confused on that issue.<<
Yes, with the help of Parrott (I can find no clear statement in appendix 6 - the Rifkin essay) we can read on pp. 132-133 of Parrott's "The Essential Bach Choir" [Boydell, 2000] that Scheibe's comments (whose name has been repeatedly sullied by another list member recently) regarding the application of OVPP/OPPP are quoted seriously as favorable evidence, as Parrott puts it: "Scheibe recommends both a string body based on four or five violins per part...and --'where possible' - more than one singer per part."

Another problem which demonstrates the lack of forthrightness on the part of Parrott and Rifkin is the fact that on the recording of Bach's Magnificat (Veritas) with the Taverner Players, none of the instrumentalists are listed, nor does Rifkin with his 'Bach Ensemble' which plays on the L'Oiseau-Lyre (Double Decca) and Decca editions of Bach cantatas (OVPP) give an accounting of the 'doubling' of instrumental parts, if there was any at all beyond that which Bach required based upon the original set of parts. Perhaps this is one major reason why I and perhaps many other listeners who hear these recordings 'still seem to get confused on this issue.'

It would be helpful if you could supply some definitive statement/quote by Rifkin perferably, or otherwise Parrott, where this issue of OPPP is clearly delineated as to under which conditions the 'not ALL' rule above does or does not apply.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 15, 2004):
>>Rifkin's claim is that singers in particular repertoires did not share parts, not that ALL musicians in ALL repertoires did not share parts.<<
< This is the same kind of forced logic that has been used by another contributor to this list. >
It's called "scholarly logic". Or, alternatively, "real logic" and/or "reliable logic". Or, just plain "logic".

Whatever sets it apart from pseudo-logic, or random illogic, or forced illogical nonsense.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>Logically, single singers (each holding his own part to sing from) would have the fewest lighting problems of all, and could also stand as close to or as far from another singer as heating considerations (or other) would offer.<<
Consider the lighting problem: With a candle for each part (this may be the reason why generally only one part for each voice was copied out of the score, because it would have been more costly in terms of providing extra candles to be burned), three or four individuals could read from such a single part with the added advantage that they may retain more body heat standing together as a close group than if they were spread about/apart individually with candles in their hands (which would be more costly.)

Illustrations 12 & 18 in Parrott's "The Essential Bach Choir" are extremely misleading as far as the actual physical situation at St. Nicholas's is concerned. What is interesting, however, once the spaciousness of the performing arena is subtracted and translated into reality, is that there seem to be three singers singing from each part (as described by Schering on p. 54.) All that Parrott can say about this is that 'literally' it is impossible to sing in this fashion and that two of the singers are not even looking at or sharing the music. Has Parrott even considered that Bach cantatas contain many recitatives and arias where the same student voices that participate in singing the choral parts do not necessarily join in when the full choir is not needed? Regarding the accuracy of spatial relationships in iconographic evidence of this sort, I have already made some necessary comments on how these sources are to be understood properly.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 15, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: "Another problem which demonstrates the lack of forthrightness on the part of Parrott and Rifkin is the fact that on the recording of Bach's Magnificat (Veritas) with the Taverner Players, none of the instrumentalists are listed, nor does Rifkin with his 'Bach Ensemble' which plays on the L'Oiseau-Lyre (Double Decca) and Decca editions of Bach cantatas (OVPP) give an accounting of the 'doubling' of instrumental parts, if there was any at all beyond that which Bach required based upon the original set of parts. Perhaps this is one major reason why I and perhaps many other listeners who hear these recordings 'still seem to get confused on this issue.'"
I can just imagine the scenario - Andrew Parrott tells the booklet editor at Virgin/EMI "whatever you do, don't list the players on this CD in the booklet, as I want to bamboozle and confuse listeners as to how many string players I am using".

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 15, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: "With a candle for each part (this may be the reason why generally only one part for each voice was copied out of the score, because it would have been more costly in terms of providing extra candles to be burned), three or four individuals could read from such a single part with the added advantage that they may retain more body heat standing together as a close group than if they were spread about/apart individually with candles in their hands (which would be more costly.)"
Have you ever tried singing from a copy that is shared with three other people?!! Think about it.....

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: >>Have you ever tried singing from a copy that is shared with three other people?!! Think about it.....<<
I have, with Bach's circumstances in mind: two of smaller pupils stand in front of (and below) another two (young) adults who are much taller. The latter can easily see over the heads of the younger singers.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 15, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Another problem which demonstrates the lack of forthrightness on the part of Parrott and Rifkin is the fact that on the recording of Bach's Magnificat (Veritas) with the Taverner Players, none of the instrumentalists are listed, nor does Rifkin with his 'Bach Ensemble' which plays on the L'Oiseau-Lyre (Double Decca) and Decca editions of Bach cantatas (OVPP) give an accounting of the 'doubling' of instrumental parts, if there was any at all beyond that which Bach required based upon the original set of parts. >
I very much doubt if this has anything to do with Rifkin or Parrott: the decision on whether to provide a full list of players is usually taken by the record company, not by the artists. Rifkin wrote the notes to the original issues of his Decca cantatas, in which he gives a detailed account of his examination of the original sources and the decisions he took on that basis. It's very easy to understand from these how many players he used, and why. It's not his fault that these notes were omitted when Decca re-issued these recordings several years later, in a different format. As for Parrott, I think the original issue of his Magnificat on EMI (coupled with BWV 11 and BWV 50) DID include a list of players, though I'm not sure on this point. I know that the original issues of Parrott's B minor Mass, St. JOhn Passion and Trauerode include a detailed list of players and singers alike.

< Perhaps this is one major reason why I and perhaps many other listeners who hear these recordings 'still seem to get confused on this issue.' >
Information on researchers' views, theses and evidene should be based on reading their scholarly work, not on what information the record companies choose to include in their commercial releases. (Even when they write the notes themselves, they're usually required to be brief, and therefore cannot give full details on all the evidence: a scholarly article would still provide much more information). Parrott's book is, of course, a useful starting point, but it doesn't claim to include all the information -- that's why it has a detailed bibliography (so that anyone interested can go to the library and find out more).

< It would be helpful if you could supply some definitive statement/quote by Rifkin perferably, or otherwise Parrott, where this issue of OPPP is clearly delineated as to under which conditions the 'not ALL' rule above does or does not apply. >
Try Rifkin'sarticles in the Journal of Musicological Research, vol. 14 (1995), pp. 223-234, and Early Music, May 1997, pp. 303-307; Parrott's book, chapter 5; and references within these. In particular, Rifkin's statement of his central claim in Early Music, May 1997, p. 305: "ripienists did not read from teh same music [i.e. the same parts] as concertists". That is, the singers who sang in arias and choruses alike (concertists) did not read from the same parts as the singers who took part ONLY in choruses (ripienists). This has nothing to do with instrumentalists.

One things is true: Rifkin did claim that in some specific circumstances, players did not share parts either; but he does not claim that this was ALWAYS the case. "the remaining existing parts dictate that only one person could sing or play from a single part" is Braatz's summary of Rifkin and Parrott: he's the one who attributes this sweeping, un-nuanced, no-exceptions-allowed claim to them. So the burden of proof is on him: Where did either of them make this claim? In which book or article? On what page? And did they really argue that this claim applies universally, to all music -- or even to all of Bach's music?

This will be my last contribution to the debate at this stage.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 15, 2004):
Thomas Braatz writes: "I have, with Bach's circumstances in mind: two of smaller pupils stand in front of (and below) another two (young) adults who are much taller. The latter can easily see over the heads of the younger singers."
In this experiment, which were you, one of the smaller pupils or one of the young adults? How tall are the boys in front allowed to be, under this arrangement, and how tall do the adults behind them have to be? How much higher do the adults behind have to stand? What happens in this performing arrangement when taller boys are involved? Or shorter adults? How much music did you sing in this experiement? Are you suggesting that in Bach's performances adult voices (tenors or basses) sang from the same copy as chilren (trebles and possibly altos)?



Continue on Part 15


Choir Form: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
One-Voice-Per-Part (OVPP):
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19
Books about OVPP:
The Essential Bach Choir [by Andrew Parrott] | Bach's Choral Ideal [by Joshua Rifkin]: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýMay 30, 2005 ý21:59:12