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Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 12

 

 

Continue from Part 11

Not often played SMP/SJP ?

Continue of discussion from: Double-Dotting [General Topics].

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 28, 2005):
[To Ludwig] What do you mean by "not more often played especially the Passions of St. John and St. Matthew"?

In March 2005 alone there are about 250 performances of SMP/SJP worldiwide. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Concerts/Concert-2005.htm#Mar

Although I have done an extensive research to find them all, I am quite certain that I have missed many more. Many performers/ensemble do not have a website, others present their concert schedule in languages that I cannot read, etc.

John Pike wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] Indeed. In the UK alone, there are many performances of the SMP/SJP in the few weeks before Good Friday. Sadly, Christmas is a different matter; performances of Messiah heavily outweigh performances of the Christmas Oratorio. I love both these masterpieces, but I wish the XMO got more of a look in. We usually go to Berlin in December, and there the opposite holds. There are usually many performances of the XMO and none of Messiah.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To John Pike] Here in South Carolina we are dominated by the Southern Baptist Church---you know the one's that advocated slavery as ok during our civil war and are now against female clergy and certainly rapidly gay people and are proud to have as a member The Reverend Fred Phelps of GOD HATES FAGS!

These folks have never heard of Bach's Christmas Oratorio and will not hear of anything else but the Messiah at Christmas. For many this is the only "classical"(sic) music they have ever heard of or are willing to listen to or particiapte in.

Dale G edcke wrote (March 30, 2005):
RE: the appended e-mail from William Rowland:

William, it sounds like you live in the same "red-neck" southern USA that I reside in (East Tennessee). Certainly the vast majority of the southern population in the USA is dedicated to Country & Western music (primarily) and Popular Songs (secondarily). To a red-neck, classical music is a country & western song that Hank Williams recorded in the 1950s.

Lest outsiders get the wrong perception, there are lots of people in the Southern USA who enjoy classical music. But they tend to live in the big cities of the South, rather than the rural areas.

For example, in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Greenville, Raleigh, Charleston, and even Asheville, you can find your fill of classical music.

But, Händel's Messiah definitely dominates relative to Bach's music at Christmas time.

John Pike wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Ludwig] Sounds horrendous. I was aware of the "Rev" Fred Phelps and his infamous website, www.godhatesfags.com. I am sorry you find yourself living in this almost total cultural wasteland. Thank God you at least have Messiah in the area.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Ludwig] I think part of the problem is that some conservative Protestant churches - among them the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) - have a principle of everything having to be in a language 'understanded of the people', i.e. nothing in foreign languages. I suppose it's a hangover from the Reformation - ultimately, a reaction to use of Latin for Catholic Mass.

Doug Cowling wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To John Pike] Ironically, Händel wrote Messiah for performance in Lent.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 31, 2005):
[To Dale Gedcke] C'mon, guys. Messiah is one of the few great musical works originally written in English. That's why you hear it so much in English-speaking countries. There's much more great stuff in German, including the XO. So that's why you hear it in Berlin.

I must say that every time a non-native-English-speaking chorus attempts Messiah, the result is detectable and regrettable. Likewise with soloists, with a few exceptions including von Otter. So to each his/her own.

Robert Sherman wrote (March 31, 2005):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] I think it depends on the cultural level of the congregation. I've sung for many years in a Congregational church choir and now in an Episcopalian one. Both are in the Washington DC area and both do German and Latin pieces in
the original language as a matter of routine.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (March 30, 2005):
[To Robert Sherman] Not entirely. That PCA church I referred to before (I had one in particular in mind) is a very high-powered place - the sort with a world-famous preacher and a congregation of over 1000 people educated at top-notch, even Ivy League universities, who all come to church because they want to hear the hour-long sermons which will give them a more thorough education in the Scriptures than they'd get at any seminary (we're talking about 300 or so hours to preach through just the book of Romans!).

And on top of all that, all the vocal soloists are professional opera singers, or at very least students of opera at some of the best conservatories on the planet; they have an orchestra that plays classical music as well, featuring members of (among other organizations) the Philadelphia Orchestra. Even the congregation is cultured enough that for Easter evening service, they distribute vocal scores of the Hallelujah chorus from 'Messiah' to the entire congregation (at least they did in the days when I went there), and everyone sings.

So it's purely an ideological thing for these folks not to have anything in foreign languages. That having been said, the Episcopal Church does indeed an entirely different policy about singing in foreign languages at the service. (I've sung stuff there in Latin and perhaps even German myself). But I doubt that this is because more people in the Episcopal Church know foreign languages - the educational levels are at least comparable.

John Reese wrote (April 1, 2005):
[To Ludwig] In my experience, a lot of Southern Baptists avoid polyphonic music like the plague. It sounds too Catholic.

Tom Dent wrote (April 1, 2005):
Being too polyphonic

[To John Reese] Thomas Beecham used to say exactly the reverse about Bach: 'Too much counterpoint and, what is worse, Protestant counterpoint!'

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (April 1, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] Are you talking about the crowd who don't use organs at services at all and probably don't sing any work written before about 1980 at the services? Not that there is anything wrong with such music - I've played it at church services myself. The issue, however, is perhaps rather 'not sounding like those nominal [i.e. non-evangelical] Christians out there', also 'being relevant in contemporary society so as to reach the greatest number of people'.

Dale Gedcke wrote (April 1, 2005):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote: "...The issue, however, is perhaps rather 'not sounding like those nominal [i.e. non-evangelical] Christians out there', also 'being relevant in contemporary society so as to reach the greatest number of people'."
MY COMMENTS:

I think that is the most important challenge the Christian religion has been grappling with from circa the 1970s onward. How do you keep attracting people to attend Church?

Many schemes are being tried to achieve that goal. When I was a youngster, about the only source of music in a church was a choir accompanied by an organ, or the congregation accompanied by the organ. Only rarely would you see a solo instrument featured along with the organ in a service. The Salvation Army, of course, almost exclusively used a brass band for music in its services. But, that was the exception compared to the majority of popular denominations

Now, we find orchestras, bands, and even rock-bands in church services in North America. I suspect this is an effort to improve the entertainment value and attractiveness of the church service. Even in Southern Baptist churches, orchestras have become a common feature of the Sunday service. Maybe they are getting cto Bach than one would superficially think.

Bob Henderson wrote (April 3, 2005):
Its interesting to note that I am not the only "southerner" USA who subscribes to the list. Altho Tallahassee is a University town (40,000 students) with a large music school, serious music as such is just not a part of things here apart from a few University sponsored concerts. And serious music is relegated to the catagory "culture" with all its pseudo aristocratic trappings. Mint juleps and all.

I come from Philadelphia where music is simply a part of life and culture is something you grow in a pietri dish. Good article in recent Gramophone on the city. Written by a homeboy.


BWV 54 - Samples (warning, NOT about BWV 54....)

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 25, 2005):
Since the topic really isn't "BWV 54 - Samples" as advertised, but "Anti-Harnoncourt Bash part #357" I'll try to keep my responsive remarks (calling for balanced acceptance, and reasonableness) relatively brief. It saps my energy and time to keep saying the same thing about basic musicianship (and Baroque expressivity) a bazillion times, defending against this particular anti-Harnoncourt diatribe that never really goes away.

< This has been discussed on this list before. It is a very obvious mannerism, which in the case of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata cycle, has been exaggerated deliberately based upon, as far as I can determine as explained in one of Harnoncourt's books, as appropriate for Baroque violins which are played with shorter bows, and hence, (this is Harnoncourt's 'logical' explanation for using this 'gesture') the violinists playing such instruments are generally unable to play (tie-together, play legato) more than two or three notes in succession. Now add the overly strong accent on the first note of such a pair with the resulting extreme deemphasis of final or weaker notes, and you will get an extreme diminuendo plus the shortening of the final note value by half or more of its original value. Now allow a string player (Harnoncourt) to apply this to a choir singing Bach cantatas with the result that the longer vocal phrases become cut-up and choppy (generally the antithesis of normal choral singing which is known for using a cantabile, legato technique in singing.) Final syllables, or worse yet, final mono-syllablic words, are generally unintelligible or inaudible. >
Harnoncourt's musical transgression here, if indeed he has committed one AT ALL, is that his musicianship tends to present the musical gestures at a level of intensity and obviousness that makes that particular online critic both uncomfortable and bewildered. The critic doesn't fancy it, and therefore it's seen as wrong, and he does everything he can (especially with book searches) to try to "prove" that Harnoncourt is wrong and that consumers of books and recordings (but particularly himself) know BETTER how things should go. Plain and simple.

Meanwhile, some other listeners DO fancy it and accept it as a valid and enjoyable approach to Bach's music. This doesn't deter the self-appointed critic, who must disrespect the whole approach and "correct" it in public. It all still comes down to his own taste. He doesn't fancy Harnoncourt's particular type of musicianship, or degree of intensity. That's it. The critic's personal taste is offended, and it's somehow Harnoncourt's fault for being too focused and bold as a musician.

Harnoncourt has been making recordings as a soloist and ensemble director for well over 50 years, and he was a professional cellist in the Vienna Symphony before that--in both performances and recordings. He comes to Bach performance as a very experienced practicing musician, playing multiple instruments and conducting. Likewise, Leonhardt has been working professionally as a performer and teacher for more than 50 years, and playing multiple instruments and conducting. (There's even a recording of Leonhardt playing viola da gamba....) And both of these men have authored books that are worth reading; Leonhardt's is about the Art of Fugue, and Harnoncourt's several are about broader issues of Baroque musicianship. Leonhardt has also edited a published edition of Sweelinck's music; his status as a responsible musicologist is secure.

Maybe some critics don't fancy or understand their vivid musicianship, their practical angle, and their ability to read Baroque notation in ways that modern untrained people don't comprehend. Fair enough. But do these critics bring a similar amount of expertise and practical background to understand the fundamentals of musical communication, in performance? Or is the criticism leveled against Harnoncourt and Leonhardt just a bunch of idle speculation drawn from books (to justify personal preference against the sounds these musicians provide), as if that could prove that these fine musicians are somehow wrong by some objective aesthetic or historical standard?

Furthermore, the notion that vocal articulation comes directly from the length and shape of bows is just plain wrong, as a creative and defamatory misreading of Harnoncourt's books. It's not about any INABILITY to play creamy late-19th-century interminable legato, as some presumably horrible restriction. It's about the use of speech-like articulation as a VIRTUE, whether it's instrumental music or vocal music or both. The bows are merely tools that aid that aesthetically-valid approach, which just happens to be different from the type of bowing that would be appropriate for Richard Strauss's music or a John Williams film score.

Language, basic human language whether it's speech or music, is MORE intelligible when it has variety in it (some strong and weak syllables, variation of pacing, etc.) than when it is a stream of constant sound. This is a very basic point of Baroque musicianship, and it's been discussed here for at least two or three years. That the critic still dismisses this as "choppy" and "unintelligible" (as if none of the ensuing explanations have ever taken place, since he hasn't learned from them), well, that's just (apparently) an issue of his taste and his practical unfamiliarity with phrasing in this repertoire, and his stubbornness against listening to musicianship as explained by practical musicians. Our musicianship and experience always has to be trumped by things he finds, and DOESN'T find, in his books...and then wrapped in speculations as to why we're wrong.

<<snip> In the last two decades, there have been more HIP recordings and performances that have attempted to overcome the excesses prevalent in the H/L cantata series. However, as long as there are calls for more 'gesturing' on the part of listeners, some of whom are not really listening to understand the words that are being sung, there will continue to be relapses on the part of some musicians/conductors to repeat the exaggerated mannerisms that are evident, with a few exceptions here and there, in the bulk of the H/L cantata recordings. >
"Excesses"?! "Relapses"??!

< I have found myself succumbing to using the word 'gesture' which appears quite regularly in these discussions. This slogan or catch-word has no firm basis in any musicological discussions as far as I can determine. Does anyone have a musical definition of 'gesturalism' or any of its variants as applied to Bach cantatas? >
Again, this has all been presented so many times before, and yet the critic still does not accept that it exists ("no firm basis in any musicological discussions"??!!). There are whole musicological conferences about the interrelated topics of music and gesture. Google it. http://www.google.com/search?q=conference+music+gesture
I believe there was one somewhere last year, in which (IIRC) the list's own Dr Uri Golomb has presented a paper on this topic of gestural performance in Bach.

=====

See also the mini-essay that I've mentioned here numerous times as a resource, and have continued to update: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm
This is about NORMAL MUSICIAN, and 17th and 18th century performance practices more particularly. The untrained critic has never studied this academically and does not perform the music himself; and yet he knows better than those of us who specialize in this very field that we're somehow doing our jobs incorrectly?

An excerpt from the latter essay:

"Obviously, this gestural approach requires performers to take some chances as to determining what is important; to venture an interpretive opinion. Others might disagree with such an opinion, parsing the music differently, or preferring more ambiguity. That's the risk. The music might actually disturb some of the listeners and not merely entertain them with pretty sounds. It might compel them to think, or to feel things they weren't prepared to feel. If they came to it with the expectation of being merely entertained or pleased, they might be disappointed with (or at least bewildered by) a performance that reveals more than that. That breach of expectation might be taken as "bad" or at least "unfamiliar". To make this work, the performer has to present the music with so much conviction and clarity that even if the listener does disagree with some of the points, the composition itself has been served with respect and obvious commitment.

"And any fair critic, aware of the importance of this, would necessarily grant some leeway in this. The performer's sincerity and commitment to the music are authenticity, in practice; even if a critic would perhaps prefer to hear something different, personally. Critics who are not open-minded in this way have dug their own holes, as to their personal expectations. Musicianship is about serving all listeners to the extent that it's possible, and not merely serving the whims and expectations of self-important critics. Critics who believe that they alone have a handle on "the composer's intentions" are merely deluding themselves (and forcing their limited understandings upon other people as restrictions), especially if they are not performers themselves.

"There are so many different types of "authenticity" all vying for centrality (see especially Peter Kivy's 1995 book Authenticities), that there is no way a performer can serve all of them at the same time. The solution to this problem is to perform gesturally, bringing out at least a reasonable amount of detail at many levels. How could such a clear presentation of the composition be anything other than "authentic" or "the composer's intentions" in at least one way? Don't composers want their listeners to "get" the music vividly? (That's certainly among my intentions for my own compositions....)

"To be clear: gestural performance takes a considerable amount of work, beyond merely rehearsing the notes. And it is a willingness to sound less than completely smooth, on purpose, in service of letting the music be more immediately perceptible through the irregularity."

=====

In summary: Harnoncourt's musicianship is simply a matter of degree here, in the way he tends to be more emphatic and to present a more variegated texture than some people are comfortable listening to. Harnoncourt takes interpretive chances to make the music vivid and clear. He takes a musical stance that not everybody will agree with; nor do I agree with it myself on all occasions. So what? It's not a very good excuse to be treated to Anti-Harnoncourt salvo # whatever-it-is; we've lost count. Maybe it's an Anti-Intensity salvo. Maybe it's an Anti-Musicianship salvo (i.e. misunderstanding anything that's not written in the score, and misunderstanding of 18th century manners of reading scores as opposed to modern manners, and unwillingness to let things come in from outside the sacred writ of the score).
<part of the message was deleted>

Anybody who's curious about the various sounds produced by Harnoncourt and Leonhardt in their recordings of Bach's music can simply plunk down the price of a pizza, listen to some performances, and then decide if he or she likes (or understands) the results or would care to buy more of them. We don't need this diatribe that H and L are supposedly wrong, which is just a bunch of rationalization of a critic's own personal distaste for things he wishes he hadn't purchased except for completeness. Don't like the H/L cantata series? Fine. Give it away or sell it to somebody who would be more appreciative, and lay off these pseudo-objective and disrespectful reports that their musicianship is somehow not worth listening to--and learning from. H and L are a lot better qualified to have produced those performances in the first place, than their critics are qualified to dismiss that huge amount of work while pretending to be objective and fair.

Dale Gedcke wrote (April 25, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote (in part): "Since the topic really isn't 'BWV 54 - Samples' as advertised, but 'Anti-Harnoncourt Bash part #357' I'll try to keep my responsive remarks (calling for balanced acceptance, and reasonableness) relatively brief. It saps my energy and time to keep saying the same thing about basic musicianship (and Baroque expressivity) a bazillion times, defending against this particular anti-Harnoncourt diatribe that never really goes away. ....."
MY COMMENTS:

1) I would characterize circa 65% of the postings on the Bach Cantatas discussion group as being of the type, "I like this recording ..... ", "I don't like this recording ....", sometimes with an explanation "why", and sometimes with a deeper technical reason for the taste or distaste. My perception is that such discussions and expressions are one of the main aims of this discussion group.

If someone explains his distaste is based on what he perceives to being the bowing articulation and the choral articulation, so be it. Everyone else is free to disagree with that point of view and express their own tastes. In fact by expressing and explaining the reasons for individual tastes, we will probably be more aware of the nuances that can be appreciated from the various performances.

2) Many on this list are amatuers. Therefore, one can expect some expression of tastes based on amatuer appreciation.

3) More technically, can you give me a concise definition of what "gesturing" means? I know it has been mentioned several times, but after a while the meaning becomes foggy. "Gesturing" may be one of those deceiving choices of technical terms. In my mind, it conjures up an image of violin players in a quartet using exaggerated body motion to convey how intensely they are feeling the music. Of course, those who have played in string quartets know that some precise body language is required to synchronize the group, since there is no conductor to perform that function.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 25, 2005):
What is Gesture?

< 3) More technically, can you give me a concise definition of what "gesturing" means? I know it has been mentioned several times, but after a while the meaning becomes foggy. "Gesturing" may be one of those deceiving choices of technical terms. In my mind, it conjures up an image of violin players in a quartet using exaggerated body motion to convey how intensely they are feeling the music. Of course, those who have played in string quartets know that some precise body language is required to synchronize the group, since there is no conductor to perform that function. >
Concise? I'd say it's something like setting apart the musical elements clearly, through phrasing/articulation/timing/accentuation, rather than letting the notes blast along with undifferentiated value. Vivid musicality based on close analysis of the music, and willingness to present a variegated texture in the interest of compositional clarity and directness.

Like the Rachmaninoff listening example that I offered at the bottom of that page: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/performance-preparation.htm

Not to be confused with visual gesticulations of any kind, exaggerated or otherwise. Good musical gesture comes through in the sound, and in the way it holds a listener's attention without having anything to look at (not the scor, not the performers, not even necessarily a libretto). Anything visual would fall more into the range of showmanship, not directly the musical interpretation. And in a recording, visual showmanship is worth zero.

Dale Gedcke wrote (April 25, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks for that definition, Brad.

Rachmaninoff's piano concerto comes to mind as an excellent example of how the pianist creates the contrast in dynamics and articulation. With the definition of "gesturing" you provided, one can expect degrees of gesturing in a performance. Those who play, know that some composers and arrangers are explicit with dynamic and articulation markings, some leave it pretty much up to the performer's interpretation. Even when dynamics and articulation are well marked, they are subject to the performer's deemphasis or exaggeration. Thus, listeners with different tastes may like or dislike a particular performance. Some may find the gesturing too exaggerated, others may find less gesturing too diluted.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 25, 2005):
< 1) I would characterize circa 65% of the postings on the Bach Cantatas discussion group as being of the type, "I like this recording ..... ", "I don't like this recording ....", sometimes with an explanation "why", and sometimes with a deeper technical reason for the taste or distaste. My perception is that such discussions and expressions are one of the main aims of this discussion group.
If someone explains his distaste is based on what he perceives to being the bowing articulation and the choral articulation, so be it. Everyone else is free to disagree with that point of view and express their own tastes. In fact by expressing and explaining the reasons for individual tastes, we will probably be more aware of the nuances that can be appreciated from the various performances.
2) Many on this list are amatuers. Therefore, one can expect some expression of tastes based on amatuer appreciation. >
Certainly so, and I have no objection to that. My objection is to PRETENSES of expertise and scholarship (and pseudo-objectivity as to matters of value) where there really isn't the training and experience to back it up.

That, plus the guesswork of reading a couple of books, i.e. other people's serious work, and recycling it as if one has an even more comprehensive view of the material than the authors and performers do. Amateurs and dilettantes do not know how to resolve issues that look like contradictions in the material, especially when it comes down to practical matters of performance. The pontification AS IF a dilettante is able to resolve such issues BETTER THAN practitioners do, that's where I start to get irked and I speak up against it.

"I personally don't enjoy/understand this" and "That practice is categorically wrong according to such-and-such" are quite different statements. In the first one, a person saying it takes responsibility for his own preferences and recognizes that they are just that: his own preferences. Nothing wrong with that! But in the second one, a person saying it pretends that the responsibility for his distaste or lack of understanding is somebody else's fault that should be easily corrected, if the experts really knew how to do their own jobs well enough and if the experts had correct motivations. And that the experts should be lectured in public, about their understanding of their own material, by consumers whose training consists primarily of purchasing a lot of resources?

Consumers know A LOT and often have valuable opinions. Granted, enthusiastically! The fine line here is the way that consumers' opinions get expressed, and the recognition that those opinions are SUBJECTIVE ones, personal preferences, and honest questioning with a willingness to listen to the answers shared by other members.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 26, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote: >>but the basic [Harnoncourt] idea that music is to be treated like language, and that long legato-sostenutos are inappropriate and undesirable in Baroque music, is accepted by most historically-minded scholars and performers (including many of those who don't agree with some of Harnoncourt's more specific points).<<
"Klang=Rede" [literally sound/music - speech] has been misinterpreted by the likes of Harnoncourt and his translators as 'music has to be treated like language', better yet, 'music has to be treated like common speech as heard in conversations on the street.' A real musician and true singer would not fall for such nonsense which can not even be backed up by reliable sources from the critical years when Bach composed most of his cantatas. In Johann Mattheson's 'Critica Musica' Pt. III, [Hamburg, 1725] pp. 330-331, you will find Mattheson's description of "Klang=Rede" which differs considerably with that which has caused so many problems with Harnoncourt's (and others'] interpretations, particularly those of the concerted choral movements by Bach:

"Ein anders ist 'Musica vocalis in specie,' und anders 'Musica instrumentalis.' Auch selbst die Vocal=Music kan trefflich wohl ohne Text bestehen. Da wird mancher den Kopf schütteln; aber ich versichere, daß ich Fantaisien mit der Kehle, ohne die geringsten Worte, gehöret habe, darüber bey mir alles rege geworden ist. Zuweilen habe ich wohl mit einem Paar guter Freunde, in Ermanglung der Instrumente, eine artige vierstimmige Symphonie gelallet, und es hat allen Zuhörern eine grosse Lust veruhrsachet. Was ist das? Vocal = oder Instrumental=Musik? wo ist der Text, wenn der Reuter zu Pferde, wenn Larm, wenn zum Sturm, wenn Feuer, wenn Marsch, wenn 'retraite &c. geblasen wird? und doch verstehts eine gantze Armee gewaffneter Zuhörer, ohne Worte. Es verstundens ja schon die allten Isrealiten in der Wüsten; und waren doch, bey ihrem trommeten und schlecht=blasen, gar keine Worte vorhanden. Lieber Music=Freund! kein Grammaticus, kein Redner, kan so sprechen oder schreiben, als die Klänge thun können! ihre Sprache ist wie die Augen Sprache; sie braucht keine Buchstaben. Wer inzwischen unvertändige Leuten, die nichts von der Music wissen, noch wissen wollen, etwas kluges vorspielt, der hat eben solchen Lohn, als wer einem Americaner die schönste, nach dem Text aufs klügeste eingerichtete, Italiänische Arie vorsingt: beyden wird beydes, als ein leeres und unverständliches Geräusch, vorkommen. Inzwischen ists wahr, wenn einer Worte singt, und bringt sie nicht so heraus, daß man sie vollkommen verstehen kan, so verfehlt er seines Zwecks um ein merckliches: dennoch hat auch eine schöne Melodie, als Melodie, bey erfahrnen und gescheuten Zuhörern ihre Verdienste und gewisse Wirckung, und ist darum nicht so schlecht hin ein leeres und unverständiges Geräusch zu nennen, ob gleich die Worte bisweilen etwas unverständlich fallen."

[here is a short summary of the above:
Vocal music and instrumental music are of two different types or categories. Vocal music can stand alone even without a text being sung. Mattheson gives an example where he, together with some musician friends, (the instrumentalists were missing) sang (using only meaningless vowel sounds) a 4-pt instrumental composition, much to the delight of the listeners. Then he gives an example of a horse rider in the army who knows what to do (in which direction to ride) from (wordless) sounds emitted by an instrument off in the distance. Likewise the Israelites in the wilderness moved according to trumpet and horn calls. (again, wordless music) There is no orator, no grammarian who can speak or write the same way as music does (to move human beings.) Music does not need words or letters. But if you play some good music for an unmusical public and they do not understand it, it will be like trying to perform for an American a beautiful Italian aria: both will hear nothing but empty, unintelligible noise. It is also true that when a singer does not express the text so that it can be understood completely, he will have failed his main goal (to convery the text to the listener), yet, he will have a beautiful melody which still can have an effect as a melody upon the listener who is capable of understanding and appreciating music per se. The has thus not been reduced simply to noise, even if certain words can not be heard distinctly."]

>>Language, basic human language whether it's speech or music, is MORE intelligible when it has variety in it (some strong and weak syllables, variation of pacing, etc.) than when it is a stream of constant sound. This is a very basic point of Baroque musicianship.<<
The latter point has been over-emphasized by many Baroque music practitioners. Moderation is the key here. The dropping of unaccented syllables with its concomitant shortening of the note values, with syllables sometimes containing key words of the text is an example where the performance of text and music suffers dearly.

From page 332 in the text cited above:

"Das Singen ist mit dem Reden gantz verschiedener Natur; doch muß weder eins noch anders wieder die gesunde Vernunfft lauffen, ungeachtetet sich das Singen eine gute Gurcke heraus nehmen kan."

["Singing and speaking are of two very different natures, and yet neither should dispense with a good amount of commonsense, irrespective of the fact that singing will probably be more highly estimated."]
{not quite certain about the idiom used here: sich eine gute Gurke herausnehmen können - literally, to appropriate for oneself a good pickle - probably out of a jar where some of them may not have turned out as well - as delightfully edible.}

It is difficult to reconcile the imbalance of 'music has to be treated like speech' with Mattheson's assessment of "Klang=Rede."

Regarding the issue of 'cantabile' style of composing and singing (there is a tiny minority among the contributors on this list who, without providing specific references, maintain that 'cantabile' = singing in Harnoncourt's style - short 2 or 3 notes phrases), the following quote from Johann Friedrich Agricola's "Anleitung zur Singkunst" [Berlin, 1757] p. 50 in a commentary/footnote (not a translation of the Tosi original, but Agricola's own.]

"...daß er [der Sangmeister = vocal instructor or coach] ja Acht habe, damit die Töne, von dem Schüler, gehörig mit einander verbunden und zusammen gehänget werden mögen. Dieses geschieht, wenn man den vorhergehenden Ton so lange klingen läßt, bis der folgende anspricht: damit nichts Leeres dazwischen vernommen werde; wenn es nicht die Vorschrift des Componisten, es sey durch Pausen oder Abstoßungszeichen, oder die Nothwendigkeit Athem zu schöpfen, ausdrücklich verlanget."

["... so that the singing teacher should pay attention and make sure that the vocal student properly tie together the {individual} tones/notes so that they are connected. This will occur when the preceding tone/note is sung {sounded} all the way through {its note valuation} until the following note is attacked: so that no hiatus {no space,interruption, cessation of sound} can be perceived between one note and the next, unless it is expressly and specifically prescribed by the composer by rests, or other marks of articulation, or through the necessity of taking a breath."]

The worst habit that a singer can acquire, Agricola states, is to create an unnecessary "little break" ["einen kleinen Stillstand"] between one note and the next.

If there ever was any HIP conductor guilty of creating far too many 'Stillstands' by corrupting Bach's music from what he had originally intended, it would have to be Harnoncourt. He did not correctly heed the information given by Mattheson and Agricola, among others. Unfortunately other HIP conductors accepted and copied this style of performance, not realizing that the key documentary evidence points away from this erroneous aspect of HIP performance practice.

I have translated [these are on the BCW - do a search] quite a number of paragraphs from Mattheson's "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" where, again and again, the term 'cantabile' is used. It should be clear from the above that 'cantabile' does not mean primarily 'Music as Speech' but rather Music, particularly vocal music, being combined with Speech, without losing its most important characteristic: a primarily legato style of singing (the church recitatives/evangelist roles are, of course, a special instance, with more freedom in singing the words.) It is this misconception that will need to be corrected without returning to (as the opponents would have it) a stultifying, every-note-tied-and-sung-the-same-way performance style.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 26, 2005):
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Continue of this discussion, see: Musicianship [General Topis]



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