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Bach and Ornamentation

Bach and ornamentation

Continue of discussion from: Ton Koopman - General Discussions - Part 4 [Performers]

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 10, 2004):
Dale Gedcke asked:
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/10574
Thomas Braatz responded:
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/10575

I remark:

Boy, it sure is one-sided to cite Johann Scheibe (Bach's harshest, shrillest, and least sympathetic critic) and not Abraham Birnbaum (with whose help Bach defended himself against that destructive batch of ScheiBe)! Ornamentation is not some stiff and restrictive thing in Bach's music, as Thomas' presentation citing Scheibe might lead you to believe.

Furthermore, it is necessary to recognize some of Bach's written-out notes as ornamentation and therefore to play them as freely and loosely as improvised ornamentation is played, using those melodic shapes but somewhat freer in rhythm and dynamics.

In the interest of redressing that balance, and therefore of taking Bach's work with more respect and more understanding: Dale, I suggest you go read Frederick Neumann's 1978 book about ornamentation, and CPE Bach's 1753 essay about keyboard performance, and the New Bach Reader! Also, David Yearsley's 2002 book Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint which addresses important aspects of that Scheibe/Birnbaum debate.

And as CPE admonished, to understand ornamentation at all, one must start with a thorough understanding of thoroughbass (i.e. basso continuo practice as harmony and as bass line, above which all embellishments have variously appropriate places). It simply doesn't do to copy twiddles out of an ornament table and plug them into position wherever they occur, as that's not really an adequate understanding of the way they work. To get it right it has to be part of a whole package of harmony, melody, rhythm, improvisation, phrasing, and articulation...all of which starts with study of thoroughbass. One has to know what all the normal resolutions of harmonic tendency tones are, before learning how to ornament a line.

The CPE Bach book is available here online:
http://www.koelnklavier.de/quellen/versuch/_start.html
and William Mitchell's English translation of it is still easy enough to find.
http://dogbert.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?y=0&kn=bach+essay+keyboard&x=0

JS Bach's own primers of thoroughbass are found in the old Bach Reader, p389ff (1966 edition).

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 10, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Boy, it sure is one-sided to cite Johann Scheibe Bach's harshest, shrillest, and least sympathetic critic) and not Abraham Birnbaum (with whose help Bach defended himself against that destructive batch of ScheiBe)!<<
So what, specifically, does Birnbaum have to state regarding the subject under discussion? Does he refute Scheibe on this issue? Does Birnbaum offer evidence to the contrary?

>>Ornamentation is not some stiff and restrictive thing in Bach's music, as Thomas' presentation citing Scheibe might lead you to believe.<<
Who said that they were to be played stiffly? Not I! As far as wild rubato goes, that will still have to be proven that this concept having arisen in different places and different times actually applies to Bach's performance practices in Leipzig.

>>In the interest of redressing that balance, and therefore of taking Bach's work with more respect and more understanding....<<
I wonder who is not showing respect and understanding of Bach's work?

To help set the record straight, here are some excerpts from George J. Buelow's article on Scheibe [Grove Music Online, Harvard University Press, acc. 11/10/04]:
>>Scheibe, Johann Adolph (born Leipzig, 5 May 1708; died Copenhagen, 22 April 1776). German composer and theorist, son of Johann Scheibe [Organ builder, also acquainted with Bach.] Johann Adolph contributed an autobiography to Mattheson's Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte in which he reported the loss of his right eye at the age of six in an accident in his father's shop. At 11 he entered the school at the Nikolaikirche where his education conformed to his father's hopes for him of a career in law. In 1725 he entered Leipzig University to continue studies in jurisprudence, and at this time heard lectures by and became acquainted with Johann Christoph Gottsched, professor of poetry and rhetoric, whose works on the reform of drama and poetry deeply influenced Scheibe's own writings on music theory and aesthetics. However, his university education was abandoned when a family financial crisis forced him to remain at home. Although he said that he had begun to study keyboard instruments at the age of six, it was only at this time that he gave serious thought to music as a career. He read everything he could find about music, and began to practise the organ with the hope of becoming a professional, to compose music and to study philosophy. Scheibe was therefore largely self-taught [autodidact] as a musician and scholar; his own writings were to reveal his remarkable command of musical knowledge....In the latter year [1736] he moved to Hamburg where he established himself as a music critic and composer, and could count Telemann among his influential friends. In 1737 he initiated the publication, fortnightly throughout 1738 (26 issues), of his Critische Musikus (title adapted after Gottsched's Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst), which after a one-year pause was continued as a weekly in 1739-40 (in 78 issues). In addition, according to his autobiography, he composed large quantities of music, now largely lost, including over 150 church pieces, 150 flute concertos, more than 30 violin concertos, and numerous sinfonias, trios, solos, German and Italian cantatas, serenades, Passion oratorios and one opera, Artaban....A second opera, Thusnelde (1744), was also never performed. In 1739 Scheibe was named Kapellmeister to Margrave Friedrich Ernst of Brandenburg-Culmbach, the governor of Holstein. In 1740 he went to Christian VI's court in Denmark.... Scheibe was made Kapellmeister to the Danish court on 1 December, a position he retained until the death of Christian VI in 1747. The new king, Frederik V, retired Scheibe with a meagre pension of 400 talers... Scheibe moved to Sønderborg (on Als island), where he opened a music school for children, worked on German translations of several Danish classics, wrote a biography of Holberg and continued to compose. Later, he often returned to Copenhagen for performances of his music, and after 1766 resumed a role as a composer for the Danish court.

As a composer Scheibe is unknown. Much of his music has been lost, but the remainder has not received the study it surely merits, particularly in view of its potential importance in Danish music history in the critical years of style change between the Baroque and Classical periods.

Most of Scheibe's critical writings are extant, but these too have not received the attention they deserve considering that Scheibe was a major German music theorist and an influential critic during the first half of the 18th century. He has been neglected largely because of his famous criticism of J.S. Bach's musical style in the Critische Musikus (no.6). From its publication in 1737, this passage entangled Scheibe in a verbal war with writers who vehemently protested against his attack on Bach. Although Bach himself never responded, he was defended by J.A. Birnbaum, a teacher of rhetoric in Leipzig, as well as by Lorenz Mizler, C.G. Schröter and others. Almost every Bach scholar since Spitta has disparaged Scheibe's remarks about Bach, and Scheibe's credibility as a music critic and theorist has in effect been greatly diminished, and his major theoretical statements, including the bulk of the Critische Musikus, consequently neglected. In an anonymous letter Scheibe said of Bach (although without actually naming him) that 'this great man would be the admiration of whole nations if he had more amenity, if he did not take away the natural element in his pieces by giving them a bombastic [schwülstig] and confused style, and if he did not darken their beauty by an excess of art' (see David and Mendel). He continued by suggesting that Bach's instrumental and vocal style posed exceedingly difficult problems of performance because Bach wrote his music as if it were all meant to be played on the keyboard. He chided him for writing out all the ornamentation (often left by other composers to realization in performance), which Scheibe thought took away from the beauty of the harmony and obscured the melody. Finally, Bach's bombast, he said, brought his labour into conflict with nature. In the Bach literature Scheibe has been accused of writing with rancour because Bach had prevented his appointment as organist at the Nikolaikirche; there is no evidence to support such a petty view, and it is clear elsewhere in the Critische Musikus that Scheibe had a genuine admiration and respect for Bach. If Scheibe's critics had examined the rest of his theoretical works, they would have found that his negative reaction to Bach's style was not heretical, but rather a natural and predictable conclusion in the light of his own carefully developed concepts about the nature of musical style. Scheibe believed the best music of his day was represented by the works of Telemann, Hasse and Graun. As a critic in the forefront of the Enlightenment, who argued for a return to simplicity, to an imitation of nature and to an emphasis on persuasive melody, Scheibe could not but find Bach's music open to some mild criticism.

A fresh evaluation of Scheibe's ideas is now needed. Beginning with his youthful treatise in manuscript, Compendium musices theoretico-practicum (published as a supplement to Benary), and throughout several other publications, there is consistent evidence of his originality and progressiveness as a music theorist. In the Critische Musikus particularly, the major thrust of his musical criticism is to prove that Italian music must not serve as a basis for German composers, and that musical styles are to be conceived in rational concepts based largely on a close analogy to rhetorical principles of style. These views, as well as numerous others, were undoubtedly the result of Gottsched's persuasive influence, as was Scheibe's search for a new rationalism in music generally. He developed at considerable length concepts such as 'good taste', melodic composition, musical invention (which he believed was inborn, not learnt) and the imitation of nature 'which is the true essence of music as well as of rhetoric and poetry'. The Critische Musikus, like his other theoretical documents, is infused with principles of musical thought characteristic of the developing Classical style in music. With a grasp of Scheibe's total musical philosophy, one can understand why the music of Bach, in 1737, was open to criticism for being 'bombastic and confused', and why these remarks accurately symbolize the end of the Baroque age in German music.<<

It could easily be that musicologists will uncover more truth about Bach's performance practices from a critic who represented a progressive or later development of musical style than from one of Bach's sons, who had, as it were, 'an ax to grind' in favor of the Bach dynasty name and the mythology they helped to create in order to support it. Being confronted as well by evolving musical styles and performance practices, what they have said or written needs, therefore, to be examined even more carefully because it is all too easy to think or say: "The son must know better than anyone else what the father did and what he stood for."

Doug Cowling wrote (November 10, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Furthermore, it is necessary to recognize some of Bach's written-out notes as ornamentation and therefore to play them as freely and loosely as improvised ornamentation is played, using those melodic shapes but somewhat freer in rhythm and dynamics. >
One has only o look at a line such as thr violin solo in "Erbarme Dich" o that in the first duet of "Wachet Auf" to see that Bach has really assimilated the ornaments into the melodic line leaving very little to be added. The same holds for the great chorale-prelude on "Schmücke Dich" where the ornaments are so beautiful that it is almost like having two melodies played simultaneously.

The difference between Bach and Handel's approach is huge. I worked on the latter's "Joshua" and the score is practically a sketch -- one has to do an enormous amount of preparation to make it work. I can only guess that Bach wanted a greater degree of control over the music compared with Handel who seemed to relish the prospect of the unknown and impulsive: I can't imagine Bach leaving empty bars in the cembalo part of the D Major Brandenburg the way Handel does in his organ concertos. Not that Bach was any slouch in the improvisation department.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2004):
>>Boy, it sure is one-sided to cite Johann Scheibe Bach's harshest, shrillest, and least sympathetic critic) and not Abraham Birnbaum (with whose help Bach defended himself against that destructive batch of ScheiBe)!<<
< So what, specifically, does Birnbaum have to state regarding the subject under discussion? Does he refute Scheibe on this issue? Does Birnbaum offer evidence to the contrary? >
Yes, but I don't intend to waste my time arguing with you about it. The sequence is there for anybody to read at page 237ff in the old Bach Reader, or page 337ff in the New Bach Reader; and see also Christoph Wolff's "Epilogue" explicating this in Bach: The Learned Musician. And, the David Yearsley book I recommended.

>>Ornamentation is not some stiff and restrictive thing in Bach's music, as Thomas' presentation citing Scheibe might lead you to believe.<<
< Who said that they were to be played stiffly? Not I! As far as wild rubato goes, that will still have to be proven that this concept having arisen in different places and different times actually applies to Bach's performance practices in
Leipzig. >
Your characterization of musical playing and musical singing as "wild rubato", right here, makes the case that you do believe in a relatively stiff manner of performance (staying very close to the literal rhythms in the score), as a contrast with that alleged wildness.

Your criticisms are all about putting restrictions upon performers, such that we are not allowed to fulfill our duties in a relaxed and tasteful manner, lest it offend your literalistic reading of the score (which you then presume to be the only possible thing that "Bach's intentions" could be, as if well-trained performers have no clue about such things). Well, that says much more about you than it does about the music, or about the styles which you haven't studied with direct experience and training as a performer.

If you're seriously interested to learn about musical rubato, beyond your own imaginations and guesswork as to what it's about (since you haven't studied historical performance practices with a teacher, and refuse to do so), I recommend the book Stolen Time: The History of Tempo Rubato by Richard Hudson (1994, and paperback 1997).

That, plus going to work on thoroughbass-playing skills, as CPE Bach stressed was fundamentally important. One has to be able to improvise freely from thoroughbass, for real, before being ato recognize the elements of written-out music that resemble written-down improvisation, and then to re-create them to sound improvisatory.

>>In the interest of redressing that balance, and therefore of taking Bach's work with more respect and more understanding....<<
< I wonder who is not showing respect and understanding of Bach's work? >
Given that you've chosen Scheibe as your champion, it's pretty clear. I've suspected for a long time already (from your reviews and your personal distrust that performers have usable brains) that your sympathies are more with Scheibe than Birnbaum, anyway, and that you're therefore also against Bach's way of expressing himself in his musical art; thank you for stating that more directly and forthrightly now than you've done before.

< To help set the record straight, here are some excerpts from George J. Buelow's article on Scheibe [Grove Music Online, Harvard University Press, acc. 11/10/04]:
defense of Scheibe snipped, for space> It's noted that you've "set the record straight" with choosing Bach's detractor as your personal champion, as a model for your own missives of musical criticism against performers and scholars. It's also noted that you celebrate Scheibe's largely self-taught approach to music, i.e. auto-didacticism, as anything you can do (among so much else) to put down those of us who believe that formal training is worthwhile.
It could easily be that musicologists will uncover more truth about Bach's performance practices from a critic who represented a progressive or later development of musical style than from one of Bach's sons, who had, as it were, 'an ax to grind' in favor of the Bach dynasty name and the mythology they helped to create in order to support it. Being confronted as well by evolving musical styles and performance practices, what they have said or written needs, therefore, to be examined even more carefully because it is all too easy to think or say: "The son must know better than anyone else what the father did and what he stood for." >
Yeah, or it could also easily be that Birnbaum and the Bach boys and Mizler and Schröter really did know what they were talking about, and that Scheibe was just being an uppity jerk. Schröter (1746) even points out that Scheibe's missives are a "shameful libel" in his "defamatory style of writing", and that Scheibe is only showing his own "injurious stubbornness" in continuing to bash against Bach's art.

The one among these witnesses with the most obvious "ax to grind" here was Bach's ex-student, Scheibe, who didn't understand and/or fancy the things he was being taught. It's clear in his attack, and his follow-ups, that he was doing the things Schröter noted, instead of respecting Bach's art with due seriousness. That's something that auto-didacts tend to do, elevating their own preferences and guesswork about art, to buff up their self-importance at the expense of other people's work.

Again, this is all right out there to be read, in the New Bach Reader and in Bach-Dokumente, and in the commentaries I mentioned above. Don't take my word for it; go check it out (anybody who's interested in this).

Meanwhile, it seems to me that Scheibe is not a particularly good champion to hide behind, especially since this requires you also to dismiss one of Bach's smartest sons as a witness, and Mizler (the leader of the society of musical scientists, of which Bach was a member). But again, you've picked your champion, and it shows. I'm not surprised at all.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< One has only o look at a line such as thr violin solo in "Erbarme Dich" o that in the first duet of "Wachet Auf" to see that Bach has really assimilated the ornaments into the melodic line leaving very little to be added. The same holds for the great chorale-prelude on "Schmücke Dich" where the ornaments are so beautiful that it is almost like having two melodies played simultaneously. >
Indeed. This recalls Birnbaum's sentences in Bach's defense: "For this composer does not lavish his splendid ornaments on drinking songs, lullabies, or other insipid galanteries. In his church compositions, overtures, concertos, and other musical works, one finds decorations which are always appropriate to the principal ideas he has wished to develop."

p.s. I'm a big fan of that "Schmücke Dich" setting, too. For my "senior statement" in college, for a school-wide chapel service, I wrote an essay about art/music, and about Bach's in particular as inspiring to me. Then I had a friend of mine (with a decent acting voice) read it for me from the lectern, while I played that chorale prelude on the organ, as accompaniment. Beautiful piece of music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Indeed. This recalls Birnbaum's sentences in Bach's defense: "For this composer does not lavish his splendid ornaments on drinking songs, lullabies, or other insipid galanteries. In his church compositions, overtures, concertos, and other musical works, one finds decorations which are always appropriate to the principal ideas he has wished to develop."<<
So Birnbaum's observation on Bach's ornamentation confirms Scheibe's: Bach did write out the 'decorations' [embellishments] 'which are always appropriate' for the music he composed. They were appropriate to the 'church' style of performance. This implies a much greater conservatism in their application than in the normal chamber music or operatic styles, otherwise Birnbaum would not have mentioned this specifically. According to Birnbaum, in other words, Bach placed much greater restrictions on the performance practices of his church music than he might in the coffee house. Too often attempts were made to bring operatic mannerisms into church performances. It was this that Bach adamantly attempted to circumvent by 'spelling out' all the turns, melismata, etc. Both Birnbaum and Scheibe agree on this so the answer to my questions: "Does he [Birnbaum] refute Scheibe on this issue? Does Birnbaum offer evidence to the contrary?" have been answered quite clearly and all the talk about who is on what side of the Scheibe-Bach controversy is really quite beside the point in discussing this important issue.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>and that you're therefore also against Bach's way of
expressing himself in his musical art; thank you for stating that more directly and forthrightly now than you've done before.<<
Who, then, is against Bach's way of expressing himself when he [Bach] tried to 'spell out' his requirements more carefully than most other composers who lived during his time. Both Birnbaum and Scheibe have confirmed this. BTW, what are Birnbaum's musical credentials? A rhetoric teacher at the university who is not listed in any truly comprehensive music dictionary because there is nothing musical to report about him. He was not even an 'autodidact,' but had only completed his university degree without showing any special interest in music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2004):
< confirmed this. BTW, what are Birnbaum's musical credentials? A rhetoric teacher at the university who is not listed in any truly comprehensive music dictionary because there is nothing musical to report about him. He was not even an 'autodidact,' but had only completed his university degree without showing any special interest in music. >
Look, if you can't read this for yourself ON PAGE 337 of the New Bach Reader, I'm not going to spell out his credentials for you. They're right there in Wolff's presentation, and in Mendel/David's presentation before him in the old Bach Reader page 237, likewise.

READ THE BOOKS as recommended, rather than arguing these points you really don't understand, and rather than running straight to your search engines and using absence of material in them to try to refute points. Please!

Bach hired Birnbaum to defend him in print. Isn't that all the credentials anyone could need, in this matter?!

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Bach hired Birnbaum to defend him in print. Isn't that all the credentials anyone could need, in this matter?!<<
No, because it sounds more like Bach simply hired a lawyer to help protect his reputation. I see no proof anywhere that Birnbaum was anything more than an amateur/dilettante in matters of music. As a 'friend' of the Bach family, he was simply a powerful mouthpiece in attempting to restore Bach's dignity as a composer/performer.

Christoph Wolff in his article on J. S. Bach in the Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 11/10/04 states the following:
>>Birnbaum's not particularly skilful replies fail to recognize the true problem, which lies in a clash of irreconcilable stylistic ideals.<<

and

>>Rather, Bach was aware of the dichotomy between the perfection of the musical idea and that of its representation in performance. For this reason and no other he made the following statement in 1738, through the mouth of his spokesman J.A. Birnbaum: 'One does not judge a composition first and foremost by the impression of its performance. Yet if such judgment, which can be deceptive, is not to be taken into consideration, then I see no other way of forming an opinion about it except by looking at the work as it is set down in notation.'<<

Once again we are back to the reason for Bach's careful notation and leaving as little to chance interpolations by singers and instrumentalists as was humanly possible. By taking this together with the other statements by Birnbaum and Scheibe recently cited, it becomes quite clear that the evidence is rather strong in favor of singing/playing Bach's compositions as he wrote/notated them.

John Pike wrote (November 11, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] Very interesting, but I still think his negative comments about Bach are unfounded. The Bach style is very much to my taste. Scheibe's comments are fat too dogmatic and opinionated, dressed up as fact. All he could really say was that he didn't find that style pleasing himself.

John Pike wrote (November 11, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] There are some wonderful "written-out ornaments" in the solo violin works and much of the keyboard music. It is all wonderful....I wouldn't want to be without a single note of it. It is also clear that Bach could not leave some of this to the devices of others. The ornamentation is so complex and beautiful and shows all the hallmarks of Bach's supreme genius.

John Pike wrote (November 11, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] His musical credentials were probably what Bach told him in response to the Scheibe criticisms. He probably just responded on behalf of Bach, since Bach did not respond directly himself. Bach was probably merely using Birnbaum's rhetorical powers to offer his defence....sounds like quite strong musical credentials to me!

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
>>His [Birnbaum's] musical credentials were probably what Bach told him in response to the Scheibe criticisms.<<
Musical credentials simply for being Bach's amanuensis? (this would mean that anyone who copied some of Bach's scores automatically has musical credentials.) According to Christoph Wolff, Birnbaum was not even a very skillful spokesman for Bach.

Dale Gedcke wrote (November 11, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
"Once again we are back to the reason for Bach's careful notation and leaving as little to chance interpolations by singers and instrumentalists as was humanly possible. By taking this together with the other statements by Birnbaum and Scheibe recently cited, it becomes quite clear that the evidence is rather strong in favor of singing/playing Bach's compositions as he wrote/notated them."
MY COMMENTS:

Strict adherence to the ornamentation notation in Bach's composition during a performance brings to mind two recent performance examples.

The first is the rendition of Abblassen (now considered to be a composition by J. S. Bach) used to introduce the program "Sunday Morning" on CBS TV in the USA. Last year this piece was played by Doc Severnson on a piccolo A trumpet, in strict accordance with the original notation of J. S. Bach. Recently, CBS has switched to using a performance by Wynton Marsalis. Wynton has embellished the performance by adding his own ornamentation. Wynton's version is interesting, with its extravagant ornamentation, but, to my ear, I prefer the less ornate original version specified by Bach. It could be personal preference. But, it strikes me that Bach got the composition exactly right in his original score.

There is another example that causes me to fall on the opposite side of the argument. There is a recording of BWV 147, "Jesus bleibet meine Freude", by the Vienna Boys Choir with string orchestra and trumpet on the CD, "Angelic Voices". Bach originally wrote straight trills for the trumpet. The trumpet player on this CD adds turns to the end of each trill. I prefer the version with the turns. It seems to add additional beauty and anticipation to the phrases. This is a case where I don't feel that Bach used the optimum ornamentation.

However, all of the above is a matter of personal taste and preference.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Once again we are back to the reason for Bach's careful notation and leaving as little to chance interpolations by singers and instrumentalists as was humanly possible. By taking this together with the other statements by Birnbaum and Scheibe recently cited, it becomes quite clear that the evidence is rather strong in favor of singing/playing Bach's compositions as he wrote/notated them. >
No, it's not! THAT (performing compositions the way the untrained Braatz reads them, i.e. overly literalistically without enough working knowledge of the stylistic backgrounds in play) was not even the issue under discussion!

Rather, it was the recognition of Bach's written-out notes AS ornamentation/embellishment, and playing/singing those notes in such a way that they sound appropriately LIKE ornament/embellishment, i.e. improvisation and grace. The issue is the recognition of clarity within Bach's music, where Scheibe had dismissed it as a confused mess that he (Scheibe) doesn't understand or allow to have value. Ornamentation, here in Bach's and in other contemporary music, has the fundamental purpose to clarify and intensify melodic/rhythmic events making them even more beautiful. The people who don't understand this are those who--not being practitioners themselves--see only the surface layer of lots of notes of apparently equal value; these people are understandably confused about what to do with those notes.

The fact that Bach wrote out more of the notes than most other composers is not in dispute! Rather, the issue is the appropriate way to render those notes into sound, in performance. That is where CPE's treatise and Quantz' treatise and Tosi's treatise and the other sources I mentioned yesterday are all so helpful: knowing how to bring the proper expression that is encoded in those melodic and rhythmic shapes, with the proper (unwritten!) flexibility that gets it to sound like fresh embellishment. This is where performers really know what's going on, while nay-saying critics see only what lies before their untrained eyes on a page, ossified. Musical notation is the representation of a dynamic process. It cannot capture ALL details of the shapes represented. Musicianship, in the appropriate styles, is necessary to interpret the notation properly.

Birnbaum (and Bach through him) said this very well, in one of his opening paragraphs: "Praise and blame are the usual judgments of men who have both elements before them. If both are to be weighed by justice, truth above all should speak for them. But how great may be the number of those who on this account know how to make a fundamental determination of true perfections? If all those who make it their chief concern to judge the actions and omissions of others possessed the ability needed for this purpose, there is no denying that everyone would get his just deserts. The number of base flatterers and ill-advised faultfindewould, on the other hand, be smaller than it is."

That is: instead of picking nits at other people's artistic work, it's better to go LEARN from the ground up how to DO that work, in order to appreciate it properly and have something critically intelligent to say about it. One can't really judge ornamentation or other elements of music accurately without being a practitioner. That's what Bach is saying through the rhetorical assistance of Birnbaum (who's organized Bach's ideas into a stronger argument than Bach could offer on his own). Bach and Birnbaum then go through Scheibe's criticism point by point, and show why it's a bunch of fallacious arguments built on wrong premises and ignorant assertions. The role of artifice in art comes into play: Bach has written out the embellishments that make the material even more beautiful than it already was, rather than messing it up. It takes a practicing musician to recognize what's in there, perceiving the order within things that look to a superficial critic like mere disorderly confusion, a thick mess. It takes a practicing musician to render those complex lines with appropriate clarity of purpose and shape. Scheibe's fault-finding is shown to collapse under its own superficiality and aesthetic ignorance.

Birnbaum and Bach show in detail that Scheibe has twisted the facts, misread the purposes, and has misrepresented Bach's music by missing its point altogether; hence the need for this defensive response by them. Birnbaum and Bach accuse Scheibe of being prejudiced and misleading about things that he (Scheibe) doesn't even really understand, judging Bach's work by made-up standards of judgment that make no sense according to the material. They also take issue with Scheibe's glib dismissal of Bach as a mere Musicant: Scheibe's deliberate denigration of both Bach's earned status among musicians, and Bach's mastery of the material.

=====

Bach, in contrast with most of his contemporaries, wrote out in full note values a level of detail (the notes themselves) that was uncommon: melodic ornamentation that other composers more readily left to the improvisational skills of the performers. That is what is documented, and it is also obvious by simply looking at the music. Bach wrote out more of the notes. Granted.

BUT (get this point): he most often did not notate the MANNER in which those notes should be played. He did not give full details about articulation, dynamic contrast from note to note (or within notes!), tempo nuances, melodic rubato (displacement of melody, desynchronizing it against a steady bass), the accentuation of individual words in vocal music, etc. He did not write this out in full; he left it to the good taste of the performers. (He was also sparse with notation about organ registration; that is to be worked out in individual situations...even though a choice of registration can change the Affekt tremendously. He trusted the performer to have good taste, and good practical knowledge.)

To see one of Bach's contemporaries who DID write out the manner of expression more fully, look at Geminiani's treatises about taste in music. (Look at the facsimiles, not the clueless MIDI reproductions available on the Internet.) Geminiani had small diacritical marks (of his own invention) to place above individual notes, indicating the dynamic shape that should happen from note to note, and WITHIN the notes. He also included a page of examples showing the relative values "good", "better", "excellent", "horrible", etc. over passages of music marked with these dynamic signs. The one he marked "horrible" (cattivo) is one where a long series of notes are all played with identical dynamic shape: each note flat (no crescendo or decrescendo during it), and the line having no dynamic contour as a whole.

That is: according to Bach's contemporary Geminiani (himself of very conservative taste, going back to his 17th century teacher, Corelli), the type of playing heard in generic 1970s "Baroque" performance, where all the notes are delivered evenly, is in "horrible" taste.

And to anyone who cares at all about German performance practices during Bach's Leipzig years, as we all should if we're arguing about his music: go read Quantz' book "On Playing the Flute" (available in both the original German and a modern English translation). Quantz gives detailed instructions not only for wind players, but also for string and keyboard players, about the proper expression of music. Articulation, tempo, dynamics, balance, rubato, everything. This was (and still is) a finely detailed craft, and not at all arbitrary. The performer is trained to recognize the rhetorical figures and the proper manner in which to articulate them. The performer is also given explicit advice about how to play confidently, how to work well in an ensemble, how to be an intelligent and thoughtful critic, and more. It is a remarkably comprehensive tutorial about how to be MUSICAL in the music of that culture. I don't think it's too strong to say this: this book should be REQUIRED reading for anyone who proposes to criticize performances of this music!

Last year I heard a church sermon that was an expository reading from the book of Acts. The speakers were a pair of university professors in Biblical studies. They opened by pointing out that the book of Acts is "high context" literature: that is, it was written for (and within) a culture where the background and political situations were already known to everybody and didn't have to be explained within the text. The only way to understand what such a text might have meant at the time of its writing is to reconstruct as much of that contextual information as possible. (Otherwise we're just reading our modern biases into it, and finding whatever we hope to find there.) In contrast, we today live in a culture of "low context" where we expect texts to mean exactly what they say, no hidden agendas, everything explained in full. We automatically assume that as a standard, even if we're looking at an older text. That's a danger.

That's the situation we're in with Bach's music, too. Some people assume that it shows us everything we need to know about it, that it's "low context", that all we have to do is play through the notes exactly as written. Others of us (those of us actually trained in this field, plus perhaps a few others) know that it is "high context" music and that there really is a huge collection of knowledge not shown in the score that the performers must know to present the music with the level of expression (and manner of expression) the composers expected. This is not arbitrary expression "added" by performers; it is specific craftsmanship, necessary background knowledge, necessary context to be able to recognize what is in the music, and then to be able to project it clearly in this vastly different culture today! 275 years is a long time ago. 50 years is a long time ago, in musical style.

The nuances are a vital and integral part of the music, even if the composer didn't trouble to write them down. The music is played incorrectly without them, i.e. with too literalistic an approach where the performers are fearful of doing anything where the notes don't give "permission" to be musically expressive. Bach wrote down more of the nuances than most other composers, but by no means all of them. We still have to recognize his notation AS ornamentation when it is appropriate to do so, and to put it across with that flexible character (where it makes the line more beautiful and clear, rather than confusing it).

Scheibe, and his modern counterparts, do NOT get this. They judge the music, and other people's performances, by aesthetic standards they've made up themselves (standards inappropriate to the material's content). They take their own confusion (their own inability to approach the music as fully competent performers in the given styles) as normative, as restrictions that should be placed on others. Performers allegedly aren't allowed to go "too far" (in the opinions of these squelching critics) in doithings that the critics don't understand or appreciate; because it somehow violates the music (which the critics believe they alone have any reasonable understanding of). The notes that are there, the critics don't understand in musical function. The notes that aren't there, i.e. the clear line hidden beneath the embellishment, the critics don't understand either because the critics have only a superficial (if any) command of the material as practitioners, within the styles in question. Despite the critics' lack of clarity in both these ways, the critics put up their own opinions as if it's objective truth pitted against the work of those who really understand it. Nobody's allowed to see things more clearly than the critics believe they do themselves; it's a sort of criticism that is out to squelch real expertise and training, in favor of (self-instructed) mediocrity and superficiality.

That's the type of thing that Bach and Birnbaum reacted against: unjust public criticism that is both ignorant and destructively misleading, about the material and about the skills and the earned respect of the people who create it.

=====

I was amused by watching the new movie "The Incredibles" a few days ago. The issues there are similar. The villain in there is a frustrated and bitter guy who has no super-abilities of his own, but he pretends to. And he likes to cite the famous Kathy Bates line from "Misery", several times, about himself being the "biggest fan" of the truly skilled. His game is to take down all the real heroes one by one, killing and torturing them, to get them out of the way. He then wreaks havoc on the public himself, so he can swoop in at a heroic moment and act like a superhero himself, through his inventions and his misdirections. It's all about fooling people to laud mediocrity (a recurring theme at several other places in the movie, also), instead of appreciating/trusting/encouraging real ability from those who have it. The villain crows that he's going to sell his inventions to the public so EVERYBODY can be "super", so that superness itself means nothing and is no longer allowed to exist. It's about damaging reputations, and about killing the real messengers of good, so that bluffing and illusion will remain the only game in town. (So much for society's best interests!)

It's about unskilled fans--who probably believe that they're doing the right thing!--putting themselves (with self-importance and disillusionment) above those whose work has set a standard so high that they have no hope of reaching it.... It's Johann Scheibe taking such critical potshots to try to knock Bach down to his own level, both with his initial attack and his follow-up missives in the discussion. It's Syndrome trying to knock off the Incredibles and all the other superheroes, so he himself can look brilliant and outstanding and heroic, and as if he's serving the public's best interests. And, it's about non-performing critics today trying to be "Bach's biggest fans", such that nobody else is allowed to do anything with better clarity or training or ability than they would bring to it themselves....all (allegedly) in the interest of having Bach's music be properly respected!

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Musical credentials simply for being Bach's amanuensis? (this would mean that anyone who copied some of Bach's scores automatically has musical credentials.) According to Christoph Wolff, Birnbaum was not even a very skillful spokesman for Bach. >
Ah...hiding behind Wolff now, instead of READING what Birnbaum wrote, and reading the whole discussion in which it took place?! And besides, what is this dishonest misrepresentation of Christoph Wolff's position, anyway?! Misdirect us as to Wolff really said, and then claim that he's on YOUR side in this elevation of auto-didact Scheibe above university professor Birnbaum?!?!?!??

Here's what Wolff wrote as the opening paragraph of his Epilogue (p465 of Bach: The Learned Musician), about Birnbaum's defense:

"Bach must have derived considerable satisfaction on reading, in January 1738, the defense against the attack on him that Johann Adolph Scheibe had launched the previous year. The essay, written by Magister Johann Abraham Birnbaum (doubtless with Bach's assistance), replaces Scheibe's image of Bach the music maker with that of Bach the virtuoso. The article also refers to Bach consistently as 'the Hon. Court Composer'--a formulaic reverential gesture, to be sure, but an appellation that emphasizes the significance of Bach the composer. Since, however, Birnbaum deliberately appealed to a discriminating audience, in particular to the 'real connoisseur of true musical perfections', he placed the bar as high as possible in addressing the 'remarkable perfections that indisputably belong to the Hon. Court Composer alone.' Here Birnbaum revealed himself to be a true and resourceful threesome--rhetorician, legal scholar, and philosopher--and overpowered his opponent by introducing into the discussion the concept of 'musical perfection', a notion as abstract as it is irrefutable."

It seems to me that Wolff is citing Birnbaum here as a PARTICULARLY SKILLFUL spokesman for Bach, in combating Scheibe's destructive nonsense.

=====

Also, according to Wolff in the New Bach Reader (and Mendel/David before him in the old one): Birnbaum, according to Lorenz Mizler, "possessed a good grasp of music and played the clavier decently." Not that that credential itself is as important as his ability to write the brilliant essay that he did!

If we take your own fallacious reasoning here to its [il]logical conclusion, with Birnbaum allegedly belonging in the trash can because New Grove doesn't offer an article about his musical abilities: you're not a skillful spokesman for Bach yourself because there's no New Grove article lauding Thomas Braatz' musical accomplishments, which would be (according to your reasoning here) a prerequisite to taking anything you say seriously. You'd need to put up substantial evidence of your own compositional and keyboard skill, even to reach the level of credibility of your hero Scheibe! Well, let's see some, then. Be consistent.

Alan Melvin wrote (November 11, 2004):
I'm just an amateur; I've read only a handful of books on music, and most of my knowledge comes from a few hundred hours of squinting at facsimiles of Bach's music over the years.

Everybody knows there were some people who complained in Bach's time about his sometimes writing out ornamental-sounding melodies rather than using symbols, especially in published works. But what about all the other manuscripts- the majority- in which Bach DIDN'T do this?

It is blatantly obvious even to me that Bach, along with everyone who copied his music by hand, considered certain ornaments implicit in the music even if none were written- symbolically or otherwise. Does anyone seriously think we should never trill a dotted cadence if one of the manuscripts (say, the autograph) lacks a symbol?

Therefore be more specific in your complaints. Acknowledge that there is a continuum- from musical situations in which inserting an unwritten ornament in performance is mandatory (certain cadences), to those in which it is strongly preferable (repeated passages), to those in which it is a performer's right, to those in which it is poor taste and the abuse of that right. Acknowledge that this is a question of taste, and that music demands that everyone draws the line somewhere.

Charles Francis wrote (November 11, 2004):
[To Alan Melvin] I have to disgaree with your assessment, as Birnbaum's response to Scheibe indicates Bach prescribed a correct method according to his intentions to set the wanderers back on the right path, so avoiding the possibility of inappropriate application of the manner, or spoiling the principle melody or introducing such passages as might easily be attributed, by those who did not know the true state of affairs, to an error of the composer. To fully understand the import of these remarks, listen to Ton Koopman's performance of the Well TemperedClavier (either book).

Scheibe wrote:
"...every little grace, and everything that one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing, he expresses completely in notes..."

Birnbaum, responding on Bach's behalf, wrote:
"It is also indispuitable that this manner can please the ear only if it applied in the right places but must on the contrary uncommonly offend the ear and spoil the principle melody if the performer employ it at the wrong spot. Now experience teaches further that usually its application is left to the free whim of singers and instrumentalists. If all such men were sufficiently instructed in that which is truly beautiful in the maner; if they always knew how to employ it where it might serve as a true ornament and particular emphasis on the main melody; in that case it would be superfluous for the composer to write down in notes once more what they already knew. But only the fewest have a sufficient knowledge, and the rest, by an inappropriate application of the manner, spoil the principle melody and indeed often introduce such passages as might easily be attributed, by those who do not know the true state of affairs, to an error of the composer. Therefore, every composer, including the Hon. Court Composer is entitled to set the wanderers back on the right path by prescribing a correct method according to his intentions and, thus to watch over the preservation of his honour."

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>No, it's not! THAT (performing compositions the way the untrained Braatz reads them, i.e. overly literalistically without enough working knowledge of the stylistic backgrounds in play) was not even the issue under discussion!<<
Once again we see Lehman's inability to examine and understand the primary evidence properly. Lehman prefers to move the argumentation elsewhere, to personalize it and apply logical fallacies liberally without batting an eyelash. The issue under discussion is and should remain focused upon the statements by both Birnbaum and Scheibe which agree with each other for the most part and then the final statement by Bach (through his spokesman Birnbaum) that he did not want the quality of his music based solely upon a performance of it because performances often do not live up to the music as presented in the score of the composer. The latter statement provides further evidence for the motivation on Bach's part to be meticulous in writing out the ornamentation he desired (because he knew that he had good musical taste which the performers often did not.) The clarity within Bach's music stems from his special efforts in this direction and almost never through the performances by musicians. The latter are unable to claim that they possess the same high standard of good musical taste that Bach had. Often this occurs because they are time- or place-bound, and as such they represent, often unknowingly, a different performing style ('style galant,' for instance: CPE, Quantz, even Niedt, the early pioneer) or even a different country's style of performance practices [Italian (Tosi - remember that Agricola expanded and/or disagreed with Tosi on a number of important items) or French - different types of ornamentation, sometimes applied even today to the performances of Bach's cantatas.]

>>The people who don't understand this are those who--not being practitioners themselves--see only the surface layer of lots of notes of apparently equal value; these people are understandably confused about what to do with those notes.<<
What has happened during the last half century of Bach performances is that many practitioners have moved too far away from the Urtext by relying upon unreliable or misunderstood 'evidence' from the past or simply following their idiosyncratic instincts which often give a distorted view/hearing of Bach's music.

>>The fact that Bach wrote out more of the notes than most other composers is not in dispute! Rather, the issue is the appropriate way to render those notes into sound, in performance.<<
Of course, Bach wanted his embellishments not played in a stiff, dead-pan manner. That is not under dispute here. What is under dispute is whether relying upon CPE, Quantz, and Tosi will give any musician the correct key to understanding and playing Bach's written-out ornamentation according to his wishes. These are not the most reliable sources for reasons already mentioned.

>>Musical notation is the representation of a dynamic process. It cannot capture ALL details of the shapes represented. Musicianship, in the appropriate styles, is necessary to interpret the notation properly.<<
There is no way this 'musicianship' can be guaranteed by following the suggestions of CPE, Quantz, and Tosi et al, just as there is no guarantee that combining this 'knowledge' with the intention of appealing directly to the listening audience will necessarily yield results that would conform with Bach's wishes.

>>That's what Bach is saying through the rhetorical assistance of Birnbaum (who's organized Bach's ideas into a stronger argument than Bach could offer on his own).<<
Bach's strongest argument is his music and the detailed notation he supplied whenever it was feasible. He did not need Birnbaum who cleverly led his readers astray on philosophical point that did not resolve the real musical issues behind Scheibe's criticism.

>>It takes a practicing musician to render those complex lines with appropriate clarity of purpose and shape.<<
Have you really listened carefully to all the cantatas in the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt series? There you will find many examples of how too much musical training and a faulty understanding of the musicological record can lead to results where the 'clarity of purpose and shape' which Bach provided can be cleverly circumvented by misguided intentions on the part of the leading practitioners.

>>BUT (get this point): he [Bach] most often did not notate the MANNER in which those notes should be played. He did not give full details about articulation, dynamic contrast from note to note (or within notes!), tempo nuances, melodic rubato, displacement of melody, desynchronizing it against a steady bass), the accentuation of individual words in vocal music, etc. He did not write this out in full; he left it to the good taste of the performers.<<
No, Bach was very careful, in most instances, to place his texts with the notes in such a way that a natural accentuation would occur if the singer was truly fluent in German (or Latin.) There is no real evidence that Bach used 'desynchronization.' If there is such evidence, do not send the reader on a wild-goose chase to look up materials that are mostly not easily attainable, but simply type out a paragraph or two indicating the primary sources. Such information might truly give a foundation for this claim of Bach's adherence to 'desynchronization' (other than in secco recitatives and possibly certain cadences at the end of sections or mvts.) Where is there, for instance, any evidence, that Bach would have the singers of the different parts in a choir attack the initial notes at the beginning of a bar/measure (on the beat) in a desynchronized manner?

>>He was also sparse with notation about organ registration<<
No small wonder with all the differences existing between all the organs that Bach had experienced!

>>To see one of Bach's contemporaries who DID write out the manner of expression more fully, look at Geminiani's treatises about taste in music.<<
And just how do Geminiani's treatises apply to Bach's music, the bulk of which was composed/performed before 1730. Here we have a similar problem: different country, different time, differing tastes, different audiences, facts which are often conveniently overlooked by musicologists. How can these treatises direct a musician to play Bach properly other than forcing a different style on Bach's music? An exaggerated example of this would be to play Bach in a jazz style. Not that there is anything inherently bad in treating Bach's music this way, but it certainly has no claim to 'authenticity.' Similarly, playing Bach in the Geminiani-style is not authentic, but itis possible to play it that way if you think that Geminiani's musical notions are the same as Bach's, as Lehman would have readers believe.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 11, 2004):
[To Charles Francis] Well, that's not quite so. The very next sentence of Birnbaum's essay (omitted by Charles' presentation) makes it clear: by that point in the paragraph he's refuting the second half of Scheibe's sentence, and not the part previously quoted.

"...and thus to watch over the preservation of his own honor. As a result of this explanation, the opinion of the author that this procedure 'takes away from the Hon. Court Composer's pieces thebeauty of harmony and makes the principal melody unattractive' falls to the ground."

[pp337ff in the New Bach Reader, and this part is in the top half of p347. Or, halfway down p246 in the old one.]

But again, the broader point of the whole thing is that Bach has written his musical notation to be played (and read) by people who do have musical skills as players, and not to have non-playing pedants argue about the way it should go by merely looking at it. Indeed, the assumption is that nobody but the player will ever be looking at it! By spelling out the notes more exactly than other composers do, he's written out examples of what good taste is. That is, he's moved the level of decorative invention (the choice of sequence of notes, in the surface of the melody) onto the page, instead of leaving it entirely up to the whims of players who might not know his style, where they might connect the big notes with other embellishment that is less appropriate than his recommended way is. The notation still doesn't prescribe an absolutely fixed manner in which to play those particular notes; that's still up to normal musicality and experience in those playing styles.

Essentially, he gives a good player less to have to worry about in building an appropriate interpretation, by freeing up the CPU cycles in the player's brain that would be devoted (in other people's music) to "let's see, what shall I come up with this time?" beyond the conventional types of things (as Alan Melvin pointed out well). By writing out more of the notes, Bach gives the player better preparation--and therefore a mind ready to do freer, more relaxed things with the music--by taking away some of the decisions that would otherwise be split-second things for the player to think about... especially where there are two or more lines that would call for such embellishment at the same time. If it were all left to improvised ornamentation, the player would have to have two, three, four little modules in the brain each processing a line and making up appropriately beautiful stuff simultaneously; but Bach has made the player's task easier than that by offering appropriate suggestions already. (And if it makes a dilettante player's task seem harder somehow, well, that's neither here nor there; but at least it challenges the dilettante player to learn how to play much better than he would do otherwise, by grappling with the music until he understands it!)

In this sense, by writing things out Bach made his music actually easier to play reasonably well (as a bunch of simultaneous musical lines, all with interesting integrity), rather than more difficult, when approached by good players. And, part of its pedagogicalpurpose is to train good players!

But again, to appreciate this, one has to come to it from training and experience where the improvisatory process is a normal thing to do in approaching composed pieces, arising from improvisatory thoroughbass practice (and including the improvisation of contrapuntal pieces!); and then to recognize that the notes Bach has chosen to write down in the composition represent a particularly good improvisation, and that those notes should come across sounding that way...as if the player is especially good at making up good embellishment on his own, in several musical lines at once.

That's the point that Birnbaum/Bach are drawing out here, in their defense of writing out more of the notes. The compositions sound better, because he's helped make it possible for more players to play them decently in appropriate taste. The players who are able to work out everything that's going on in the notation (the various levels of lines occurring simultaneously), and balance it all appropriately, are the ones who will sound most like Bach himself playing/improvising it in the first place.

It's true of Bach's ensemble music and of his keyboard music: there's a lot going on at once, with simultaneous lines that each need to have melodic and rhythmic integrity, all working together. Birnbaum/Bach are defending this in the essay, against Scheibe's allegations that it's all just a confusing mess of notes (i.e. that Scheibe doesn't understand how to play it well, and doesn't recognize why things are written out). They're defending the contrapuntal richness of the compositions, against a superficial approach that sees only the notes one after another, not recognizing the melodic/rhythmic shapes that are going on in there. Bach's writing-out of connecting notes makes those simultaneous melodies clearer and less confusing...coming across more like lines and therefore less like a bunch of chords placed next to one another, with indifferent part-writing. The music is composed more thoroughly than other people's music, and can only be judged really fairly on those terms, on its contrapuntal/harmonic fabric that hardly resembles anybody else's!

That's why Birnbaum/Bach said right at the top of the essay (carefully handling first things first) that critics shouldn't try to judge things where they don't really have deep insight, a practice that causes critics to summarily and unjustly discard whatever it is that they don't understand. That's the broader philosophical point they're making here, before going on to refute Scheibe's piece point by point: establishing first a proper context for musical criticism, and then showing that Scheibe's piece is way out of line in that regard. Furthermore, the Birnbaum/Bach essay itself is for connoisseurs: people who really know how to play and improvise and compose, and therefore how to formulate fair judgments about the material. They show that Scheibe's piece was only the work of a dilettante (both musically and rhetorically) trying to please other dilettantes, as true connoisseurs should recognize. They've stepped above the mundane level of Scheibe's dilettante whinings, to give a really thoughtful and philosophical response about the proper nature of criticism and musical understanding. They've shown that Bach's art rises so far above Scheibe's nonsensical attack, that the attack itself should be dismissed as unworthy of connoisseur consideration.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 11, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>."...and thus to watch over the preservation of his own honor. As a result of this explanation, the opinion of the author that this procedure 'takes away from the Hon. Court Composer's pieces the beauty of harmony and makes the principal melody unattractive' falls to the ground."<<
In other words, Bach, in order to preserve his honor and dignity as a composer/performer, claims that his [Bach's] method of writing out his compositions with the ornamentation meticulously indicated preserves 'the beauty of harmony and makes the principal melody' attractive (in good taste.) This is contrary to Scheibe's criticism that Bach's own embellishments, which he [Bach] wrote out with great care, cause the loss of 'beauty of harmony' and 'make the principal melody unattractive'

The assumption on Bach's part is that his honor and dignity as a first-rate composer can only be maintained by his procedure of writing out the specific ornamentation and not leaving this to the whim of the performer. It does not matter whether the performer is an amateur (who can learn from Bach's application of ornamentation) or a professional (who can easily overdo, overarticulate or misapply ornamentation (usually by an excess or mismanagement of fancy embellishments which can be just as bad as a lack of them.)

Bradley Lehman (November 11, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< What has happened during the last half century of Bach performances is that many practitioners have moved too far away from the Urtext by relying upon unreliable or misunderstood 'evidence' from the past or simply following their idiosyncratic instincts which often give a distorted view/hearing of Bach's music. >
No; what has happened during the last half century of Bach performances is that an approach of literalistic dilettantism (as to the reading of his scores) has been left in the dust, as foreign to the realization of Bach's intentions! We musicians have recognized that THAT is the distorted view/hearing, despite the attempts by petulant critics such as yourself to reduce everything back to that level of ignorance in areas of performance practices.

< Of course, Bach wanted his embellishments not played in a stiff, dead-pan manner. That is not under dispute here. What is under dispute is whether relying upon CPE, Quantz, and Tosi will give any musician the correct key to understanding and playing Bach's written-out ornamentation according to his wishes. >
It sure is better to have these sources around, than NOT to have them!

< These are not the most reliable sources for reasons already mentioned. >
No, they're "unreliable" only to you who come to this with the worry that they'll lead to having the music played in ways you don't understand! They are quite reliable for those of us who take seriously the process of being trained the way Bach and those around him trained their musical scholars into the deep understandings of this art.

< There is no way this 'musicianship' can be guaranteed by following the suggestions of CPE, Quantz, and Tosi et al, >
True; but it's a whole lot better than wild guesswork having nothing.

Musicianship has to be built on that stuff as a basis, as a way of training and refining the instincts from the ground up...not pasting a couple of these ideas on top of interpretations that are otherwise a bunch of random guesswork.

< just as there is no guarantee that combining this 'knowledge' with the intention of appealing directly to the listening audience will necessarily yield results that would conform with Bach's wishes. >
Better than auto-didactic guesswork, though. And, music is about appealing directly to the listening audience, communicating the music with the greatest clarity possible, holding the listeners' attention with it! Why is that said here as if it's a bad thing?

< Bach's strongest argument is his music and the detailed notation he supplied whenever it was feasible. He did not need Birnbaum who cleverly led his readers astray on philosophical point that did not resolve the real musical issues behind Scheibe's criticism. >
CLEVERLY LED HIS READERS ASTRAY???!?!?!?!!?? Translation: you simply didn't understand what Birnbaum had to say, not coming to this as a connoisseur who composes and improvises and performs Bach's most difficult music. Birnbaum's philosophical and musical points made plenty of sense to me, as one who does all that stuff everyday.

< Have you really listened carefully to all the cantatas in the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt series? There you will find many examples of how too much musical training and a faulty understanding of the musicological record can lead to results where the 'clarity of purpose and shape' which Bach provided can be cleverly circumvented by misguided intentions on the part of the leading practitioners. >
Harnoncourt and Leonhardt do things that you don't understand and therefore don't appreciate. They only have "too much musical training" according to you, who would rather have them come to their tasks with more ignorance!

And, who are you to judge the "intentions" of Harnoncourt and Leonhardt in their performances? Do you play their instruments? Do you conduct? Do you prepare performing editions and rehearse the ensemble? Do you play thoroughbass?

>>BUT (get this point): he [Bach] most often did not notate the MANNER in which those notes should be played. He did not give full details about articulation, dynamic contrast from note to note (or within notes!), tempo nuances, melodic rubato, displacement of melody, desynchronizing it against a steady bass), the accentuation of individual words in vocal music, etc. He did not write this out in full; he left it to the good taste of the performers.<<
< No, Bach was very careful, in most instances, to place his texts with the notes in such a way that a natural accentuation would occur if the singer was truly fluent in German (or Latin.) There is no real evidence that Bach used 'desynchronization.' If there is such evidence, do not send the reader on a wild-goose chase to look up materials that are mostly not easily attainable, but simply type out a paragraph or two indicating the primary sources. Such information might truly give a foundation for this claim of Bach's adherence to 'desynchronization' (other than in secco recitatives and possibly certain cadences at the end of sections or mvts.) Where is there, for instance, any evidence, that Bach would have the singers of the different parts in a choir attack the initial notes at the beginning of a bar/measure (on the beat) in a desynchronized manner? >
This is BASIC MUSICIANSHIP when studied from the 18th century sources, as to how musicians were trained. I've told you where to find those sources. Your refusal to go look them up, and to learn from them with the assistance of a qualified teacher, says things about you and not about the music, and not about the correctness of such an approach.

"Wild goose chase"!??!?!? No, it's called serious training in 18th century musicianship. If you're not willing to invest the required years of time, energy, and money in learning it from the ground up, under good teachers, all of which is attainable through dedication and hard work, then at least grant some courtesy and respect to those of us who have.

< And just how do Geminiani's treatises apply to Bach's music, the bulk of which was composed/performed before 1730. Here we have a similar problem: different country, different time, differing tastes, different audiences, facts which are often conveniently overlooked by musicologists. >
Well, get this: Geminiani learned directly from his teacher, Corelli. And Bach studied Corelli's music (making his own arrangements of it), and also had Corelli's music in the Leipzig library from which he conducted performances. That's a pretty good connection there...not to mention the huge stack of Italianate music that Bach wrote himself, from scratch.

You're the one here trying to keep styles and influences apart, artificially, because you don't understand them, and because they upset your notions of the way a properly pure Germanic performance of Bach ought to go!

And, who are you to claim that musicologists "conveniently overlook" facts? It's the non-musicologists, the dilettantes, who do the most wholesale overlooking of facts that they don't understand, and the facts they're not prepared to deal with! Real musicologists come to the facts and apply scientific methodologies to sift them appropriately. You don't. You just sit there complaining that real musicologists don't do the work to your satisfaction, which itself is the reading backward of your own foregone conclusions about theway you'd like the music to go, if only the musicians came to the task ignorantly enough. Well, then we musicians and musicologists double-cross your low expectations by actually knowing what we're doing; and the disappointment is yours to deal with, sorry!

Alan Melvin wrote (November 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< ...in that case it would be superfluous for the composer to write down in notes once more what they already knew. >
Notice "in notes"- this is about spelling-out versus other means of indication (usually symbols; at other times a formulaic knowledge based on context). Not about ornaments-versus-no-ornaments where a sis absent, especially not in those manuscripts, or movements within manuscripts, where Bach didn't even use the spell-it-out technique- where he has kept the notes simple and may or may not even provide any symbols.

< I have to disgaree with your assessment, as Birnbaum's response to Scheibe indicates Bach prescribed a correct method according to his intentions to set the wanderers back on the right path... >
...whenever he felt like doing so. Other times, he didn't. Think about all the times Bach used symbols instead, especially in the one-staff solo works, where notation tends toward the simplest possible expression. (Also I have this vague impression that he leaned more towards spelling things out when he was writing for publication- but I may wrong there.) He generally leans towards symbols in most such works, not necessarily to save ink or time, but to wallow in the ornamental traditions of his time, which he was very fond of for the most part.

He also demonstrated a great deal of flexibility in most of his music. Think about all the times when Bach re-wrote or arranged his own works, adding symbols where there were none before, or replacing symbols with written-out notes. In such revisions Bach wasn't creating possibilities that weren't already there; he isn't granting new permissions lacking in the first draft, nor is he necessarily correcting for any accidental omissions in the original draft. He's choosing to provide something more specific; that's usually all.

What about the ornamentation added by Bach's students and family in their copies? If they were going this far on paper, surely they were doing even more in performance. Of course, some of it is crap, but Bach didn't leave any evidence that he disagreed as a matter of principle. He weighed the possibilities of musicians crapping on his music ornamentally, but with the then-published exceptions Scheibe is complaining about he tended to risk it.

From one manuscript to another, from one work to another, from one instrumental setting to another, Bach varies the amount to which his notation is suggestive of larger things- contrapuntally, at least. Bach wasn't worried if the polyphonic potential wasn't fully realized on paper in a condensed notation- he knew it existed and trusted that there were people who would perceive it. So it is with ornamentation- the amount left to be realized is never going to be fully known; we have to use the best judgement we can.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 12, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>We musicians have recognized that THAT [an approach of literalistic dilettantism, that is, reading Bach's scores as he wrote them] is the distorted view/hearing, despite the attempts by petulant critics such as yourself to reduce everything back to that level of ignorance in areas of performance practices.<<
Perhaps the greater injustice done to Bach's music comes at the hands of certain well-intentioned, well-trained musicians who fail to recognize that they are following dogma based upon insufficient or incorrectly applied research.

>>It sure is better to have these sources [CPE, Quantz, Tosi] around, than NOT to have them!<<
Not when they tend to be misapplied as if they, representing different musical times and cultures, provide the final answers to Bach's own performance practices.

>>They [sources like CPE, Quantz, Tosi] are quite reliable for those of us who take seriously the process of being trained the way Bach and those around him trained their musical scholars into the deep understandings of this art.<<
This dogmatic statement fails to recognize the tremendous changes taking place in the art of music during Bach's lifetime. Adhering to his own standard of excellence in the face of such developments as the style galant, Bach did not move graciously into the new directions that were presenting themselves, while others like CPE and Quantz catered to the new, popular trends that were sweeping over Europe at the time when they wrote their treatises. Many of the statements which they make about performance practices reflect these new trends more than they spell out what the older practices were which Bach used.

>>True; but it's a whole lot better than wild guesswork having nothing.<<
Being more circumspect about what to believe in CPE's, Quantz's or Tosi's treatises, does not imply wild guesswork regarding Bach's performance practices. Actually, accepting everything at face value from these aforementioned treatises makes it far more likely that the wrong methods of performance practices will be adopted with the notion that J. S. Bach actually did it a certain way as explained in these books.

>>Musicianship has to be built on that stuff as a basis, as a way of training and refining the instincts from the ground up...not pasting a couple of these ideas on top of interpretations that are otherwise a bunch of random guesswork.<<
This is where the problem really lies: developing a musical instinct from sources that speak with forked tongues--these sources have one foot in one camp and another foot in the camp which no longer represents Bach's intentions.

>>Better than auto-didactic guesswork, though.<<
Well, Bach must have done a lot of that in his lifetime as an auto-didact!

>>And, music is about appealing directly to the listening audience, communicating the music with the greatest clarity possible, holding the listeners' attention with it! Why is that said here as if it's a bad thing?<<
My own impression of what Bach's performances may have been like is that he would not, as a first priority, have the audience in mind. He would be communing musically with his God, knowing full well that he might be able to uplift his audience to this higher realm, not pander to the baser desires of what an audience might rather want to hear because it happens to be popular to present the music in a certain time-bound manner.

>>CLEVERLY LED HIS READERS ASTRAY???!?!?!?!!??Translation: you simply didn't understand what Birnbaum had to say, not coming to this as a connoisseur who composes and improvises and performs Bach's most difficult music.<<
The evidence for Birnbaum's musical abilities relies upon Mizler's statement about him. What do we know about Mizler's musical abilities? He was an amateur composer. So now he have an amateur composer passing judgment on another person's musical abilities. Where does Bach or anyone of his caliber say anything at all about Birnbaum's musical abilities?

>>Harnoncourt and Leonhardt do things that you don't understand and therefore don't appreciate. They only have "too much musical training" according to you, who would rather have them come to their tasks with more ignorance! And, who are you to judge the "intentions" of Harnoncourt and Leonhardt in their performances?<<
Since when are listeners not allowed to judge the performances that they listen to? Isn't this what this mailing list is all about?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (November 12, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
">>He was also sparse with notation about organ registration <<
No small wonder with all the differences existing between all the organs that Bach had experienced!"
No small wonder that Thomas Braatz, who has not, I assume, (unless he would like to inform us otherwise) written for organ, doesn't realise that the differences between organs are not a reason not to be specific about registration. If a composer chooses to leave choices of registration to the taste and judgement of the performer it is a conscious decision which has nohing to do with the fact that no two instruments are alike. IBut then, it might take "too much musical training" to know that - and too much musical training is, of course, a bad thing.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 12, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The evidence for Birnbaum's musical abilities relies upon Mizler's statement about him. What do we know about Mizler's musical abilities? He was an amateur composer. So now he have an composer passing judgment on another person's musical abilities. Where does Bach or anyone of his caliber say anything at all about Birnbaum's musical abilities? >
Boy, you never let up, do you? It's all about trying to kill one (already dead) messenger after another, after another, after another, whenever they say things you don't fancy, whenever their message is dangerous to your own foregone conclusions against knowledge and expertise.

Birnbaum, and now Mizler, come under the crosshairs of your repeating rifle. Mizler, the chairman of a society of musical scientists (a super-group of real connoisseurs) that Bach was allowed to join in the last several years of his life, by submitting an especially learned and complex composition!

And then you, a NON-COMPOSER and NON-PERFORMER and NON-MUSICAL-SCIENTIST, are taking it on yourself to pass judgment against all these guys as to their worthiness to know Bach's art at least as well as you believe you do. Does the irony of this arrogance not register at all?

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 13, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote:
>>
Mizler, the chairman of a society of musical scientists (a super-group of real connoisseurs) that Bach was allowed to join in the last several years of his life, by submitting an especially learned and complex composition!<<
As I understand it, Bach was reluctant to join the group (he really wasn't that interested in the scientific-mathematical direction that Mizler had set for this group and waited a considerable amount of time before joining even after having been asked) and probably only relented to joining this group after constant prodding to do so. Please share any primary evidence to the contrary, if such evidence does exist.

It is George J. Buelow,[Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 11/12/04) who has investigated Mizler's life and works, who stated that Mizler, according to his [Mizler's] own autobiographical report to Mattheson, that he [Mizler]
was a musical autodidact:
>>Mizler stated that he had studied composition by reading the best books on the subject, hearing performances by good musicians, looking at the scores of the best masters, and through his association with J.S. Bach, whom he said he had the honour to call 'his good friend and patron'. The nature and duration of Mizler's association with Bach remains unknown.<<

The statement regarding the amateur nature of his abilities in musical composition are also from George Buelow:
>>Although never more than an amateur composer, he commanded an extraordinary range of knowledge about music, mathematics, philosophy, theology, law and the natural sciences. He advocated what he felt was still an unattained goal: the establishment of a musical science based on mathematics and philosophy.<<

Certainly it was not the case that Bach was humbly waiting to be admitted into this society led by an amateur musician!

 
 

Continue of this discussion, see: Mizler Society [Bach & Other Composers]

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