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General Discussions - Part 13

 

 

Continue from Part 12

Taking Musik - Rede seriously with Shakespeare

Tom Dent wrote (April 28, 2005):
I yield the floor to Hamlet:

"Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronouunced it to you, trippingly on the tongue : but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. [...] [I]n the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind, of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to split the ears of the groundlings, who, for the most part, are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise : I would have such a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant ; it out-herods Herod : pray you, avoid it. [...] Be not too tame either, but let your discretion be your tutor : [...] o'erstep not the modesty of nature..."

Draw your attention to the sentence beginning "O, it offends me...": where are there any silences in it? Not between syllables, and not between most of the words. The six commas denote momentary, almost inaudible pauses; the semicolon a noticeable pause without a drop of the voice; the two colons longer pauses, but still not such a heavy punctuation as a full stop. The whole phrase "it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters" is spoken in one breath without a single stop or silence: it is a continuous stream of vowels and consonants.

This is the normal state of the spoken word, when we are not dealing with politicians in front of teleprompters: silences occur only at punctuation marks, and sometimes not even at commas. The spaces between words on the page may have misled people into thinking that there are spaces between words: not so!

Hence I see no contradiction between Musik-Rede and Agricola who inveighs against un-notated silences in the middle of phrases (or even words). Vocal phrasing is thus a matter of continuous sound, counting vowels and consonants together, which may be quite varied in dynamic and timbre (though not exceeding what would be used in natural speech), between occasional punctuation marks marking the ends of phrases or important articulations within them. Explicit staccato wedges or dots would then denote deviations from this.

This may give a clue to what was meant by the somewhat mysterious injunction to a 'cantabile style'. After all, if 'cantabile' can mean to habitually put silence between notes, as well as to join them up, the word loses any definite meaning.

The Agnus Dei of the BMM (BWV 232) is a case in point.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 28, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] What about CPE Bach's explicit instructions about general touch?

- Unmarked notes are held for half their notated length, unless it says "Tenuto"; even in moderate and slow tempos the half-length is the norm. (He also has words against those whose general touch is to sound like glued-together fingers, or pulling off the keys too quickly as if being burned. The norm is the middle between those extremes.)

- Slurred notes get held for full length.

- Notes with strokes and/or dots get held for less than half length.

And this is in the same chapter where he's admonishing us to go listen to good singers as the very best way to learn correct delivery. It would seem to me that cantabile is his normal touch of half-length notes, rather like the clear pronunciation of syllables, and not some long elided line of continuous sound.

["Performance" chapter of the Versuch]

I believe it includes the feeling of the proper note-level as the beat (which is often much slower than the surface of fast notes) and fitting all the little stuff into the flow of those bigger harmonic events. For example, a phrase in the broader sense might be four or six downbeats of successive bars, shaped across all of these, while the faster notes happening within those bars have some variation of articulation within them, even including plenty of staccato if it properly fits the mood of the passage, while the broad/slow phrase still feels like a flowing legato overall. This is rather like focusing on paragraphs and sentences, rather than on individual words or their syllables.

It also has some things to do, I believe, with acoustics; the resonance of the hall makes semi-connections of the notes that are played/sung shorter. This latter point is basic to organ pedagogy: playing notes that might seem too short when sitting at the keyboard, so that they sound more rounded and perfectly clear the many meters away, where the listeners (and congregational singers) are. All of this clarifies rhythm, too.

Likewise, in JSB's book that is explicitly about cantabile playing (the Inventions/Sinfonias) there are plenty of spots that are impossible to play legato, even if one has infused the (I believe incorrect) norm into it that a completely connected legato is the basic touch.

Here's an excerpt from my recording of a JSB sinfonia, on harpsichord, where I was--I believe--slightly too legato in general! This was in a fairly large and live hall. At the same time I tried to play with a normal amount of variation that is natural to singing/speech, for clarity within all three of the melodic lines, and to set the various sections of the composition apart from one another. Likewise there is some irregularity of rhythm and attack in there, on purpose, to give it dynamic shape and clarify the lines; and some "overholding" of notes to clarify harmonies and warm up the sound. It would be dull to do too much of any consistent thing for too long, continuously. The goal is to make everything sound natural and easy, and readily parsed by the listener...like direct expression in language, i.e. cantabile, or like the graceful flow of a dance: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/
"Bach-gm-sinfonia-excerpt.mp3"

Uri Golomb wrote (April 28, 2005):
< What about CPE Bach's explicit instructions about general touch? <snip>
And this is in the same chapter where he's admonishing us to go listen to good singers as the very best way to learn correct delivery. It would seem to me that cantabile is his normal touch of half-length notes, rather like the clear pronunciation of syllables, and not some long elided line of continuous sound. >
See also several 17th- and 18th-century sources cited by John Butt in Bach Interpretation (http://tinyurl.com/bkmtu), in the section devoted to "The 'Cantabile' Style" (pp. 11-15). According to Butt, "a fundamentally legato style" was increasingly advocated in the 2nd half of the 18th-century -- AFTER Bach's death (p. 15). For Bach's predecessors and contemporaries, "the first indispensable feature of singing which sets it apart from other forms of musical performance is the delivery of the words" (p. 11); they demand clear enunciation of consonants, and clear accentuation of the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables. Continuous legato was conterproductive for both purposes; and thus, telling players to be more like singers is certainly NOT paramount to advocating legato playing. On the onctrary; "the overwhelming evidence from seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century sources is that a detached performance of runs had a priority over a 'legato' style" (p. 13) [....] "We must therefore be wary of assuming 'cantabile' in Bach's music to refer to a continuous legato. The importance of words and the 'grammatical' accentuation of the music suggests that clarity is perhaps the major component of the style" (p. 15).

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 28, 2005):
Tom Dent wrote: >>Hence I see no contradiction between Musik-Rede and Agricola who inveighs against un-notated silences in the middle of phrases (or even words). Vocal phrasing is thus a matter of continuous sound, counting vowels and consonants together, which mbe quite varied in dynamic and timbre (though not exceeding what would be used in natural speech), between occasional punctuation marks marking the ends of phrases or important articulations within them. Explicit staccato wedges or dots would then denote deviations from this. This may give a clue to what was meant by the somewhat mysterious injunction to a 'cantabile style'. After all, if 'cantabile' can mean to habitually put silence between notes, as well as to join them up, the word loses any definite meaning.<<
In a letter to his father dated June 27, 1781, Mozart commented on Josepha Auernhammer's manner of playing the keyboard as follows: "Die freulle ist ein scheusal! - spiellt aber zum entzücken; nur geht ihr der wahre, feine, singende geschmack im Cantabile ab; sie verzupft alles." ["This young lady is really dreadful! - yet she plays delightfully; the only problem is that she is unable to sense the true, fine, singing expression of a 'Cantabile' style of playing; she plucks everything apart"] 'verzupfen' = 'breaking into many smaller pieces. [This, to me, sounds like what Harnoncourt generally does with many of the choral mvts. in the cantata recordings.]

The title-page of Bach's Three-Part Inventions offers to aid a keyboard player 'eine cantabile Art im Spielen zu bekommen' ["to help achieve a 'singing manner of playing."] There is also a description of Bach's playing a keyboard (with little or no bodily movement - even the hands remained quite still) where the sounds he created were like 'a string of pearls.' The latter image properly understood means that the string was 'unbroken,' yet, as with the voice, varying sizes of pearls existed and these sizes were arranged in an orderly fashion without an extreme accent here or there causing spaces for other missing pearls to become apparent. Such an ugly chain of pearls was not what Bach presented to his listeners, nor was the all important string missing which held the notes together!

In the 1995 (paperback) revision of the 1980 (hardcover)edition of "The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians", the article by Ewald V. Nolte on Johann Pachelbel does not include the later addition of the following by John Butt [New Grove Online - Oxford University Press, 2005, acc. 4/28/05](whose research I have come to distrust and question more carefully since he has made such published statements as "...it is unlikely that Bach himself could play the [Goldberg] variations in the last few years of his life" [p. 195 of the OCC]):

>>His pupil, Johann Heinrich Buttstett (Ut mi sol, Erfurt, 1716, p.58), claimed that Pachelbel taught him to write in a cantabile style. While it is not immediately obvious what cantabile could mean to a German composer in the latter half of the 17th century, it does seem an apt description of Pachelbel's lyrical style, particularly that of the variation and ostinato works. Kube (1992) has related the term more specifically to technical features such as evenness of motion, smoothness of part-writing, motivic consistency and simple but sonorous harmonic structures.<<

[My comments: Buttstett 'only made a claim that' he learned the cantabile style from Pachelbel? So Buttstett wrote this in a published book, but we, as enlightened readers of a new century in musicology, should treat this statement with suspicion? It is, after all only a claim made by the one who directly experienced this teaching from a great master. Now, while acknowledging that it might be an apt description of Pachelbel's lyrical style, John Butt qualifies how 'cantabile' should be understood by current readers of the New Grove: "it is not immediately obvious what 'cantabile' could mean to a composer in the latter half of the 17th century." Interpret as follows: John Butt is insecure about this matter because of his insufficient knowledge thereof, or possibly he wishes to uphold the current line of thinking as expressed by Uri Golomb recently regarding Harnoncourt's performance style. Butt then feels it necessary to further marginalize/limit the normal meaning of 'cantabile' by quoting an current expert, Kube, who restricts 'cantabile' to a specialized technical feature, thus attempting, by redefining, to deflate in this manner the full impact of the term 'cantabile.']

Johann Gottfried Walther, in his "Musicalisches Lexicon...." [Leipzig, 1732] defines 'Cantabile' as follows:

>>'Cantabile' (ital.) 'cantable' (gall.) heisset: wenn eine 'Composition,' sie sey 'vocaliter' oder instrumentaliter' gesetzt, in allen Stimmen und Partien sich wohl singen lässet, oder eine seine Melodie in solchen führet."<<

["This defines the manner of composition, which the composer can choose so that the composition, either in a single line of melody or in all of the parts and sections thereof, will be {pleasantly suited} 'singable' whether set for voices or instruments." - somehow, in Bach's time, all musicians already knew what 'cantabile' (singable) music was like and how it would 'come out' in a performance. It seems that much unnecessary confusion in this matter derives from the musicological research and HIP standards of the last half century.

The current emphasis upon 'gesturing' (usually a form of extreme mannerisms used to convey what some think that 'Affekt' demands) only serves even more to destroy the legato lines inherent in Bach's music.

John Butt, in his "Bach Interpretation: Articulation Marks in Primary Sources of J. S. Bach" [Cambridge University Press, 1990) p. 11, states, as we would expect in the section entitled "The 'Cantabile' Style"; "It is all too easy to interpret Bach's exhortation to the 'cantabile' style within the bounds of modern singing technique, in other words an intense legato style with a tremendous dynamic range enhanced by vibrato." He then launches into the misunderstood "Klang=Rede" argument which places undue stress upon 'music as speech' and all that it entails. Butt's book places, as we would expect, an extremely heavy emphasis upon instrumental articulation with only a small minority of musical examples derived from Bach's vocal scores.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 28, 2005):
< See also several 17th- and 18th-century sources cited by John Butt in Bach Interpretation (http://tinyurl.com/bkmtu), in the section devoted to "The 'Cantabile' Style" (pp. 11-15). >
Yes, that's an excellent book. I had taken it back to the library a few days ago with the end-of-term due date, but I'll get it again in the summer. I should probably just buy a copy of it someday..... Thanks for mentioning that reference again.

Richard Troeger's new book about Bach keyboard interpretation is good, too.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 28, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Ah, so the critic is now qualified to judge Dr John Butt's dissertation? And to decide objectively what's "misunderstood"?

How? Why?

And especially this part: < Interpret as follows: John Butt is insecure about this matter because of his insufficient knowledge thereof, <SNIP>
Get real.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 28, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote: < See also several 17th- and 18th-century sources cited by John Butt in Bach Interpretation (http://tinyurl.com/bkmtu), in the section devoted to "The 'Cantabile' Style" (pp. 11-15). >
It is important here to make the distinction between the runs/coloraturas/passagi, etc. and normal singing. The former are in a special category of singing not to be confused with regular singing - this is explained in great detail in Tosi-Agricola.

The quote from J. G. Walther regarding 'Quantitas Intrinseca Notarum/Quantitas accentualis' does indicate a 'Verschiebung' [shifting] of similar note values according to accents derived from the text, but nowhere is it stated that there is a separation ("Stillstand") between the unaccented note and the next accented note. Where does Butt prove by quoting reliable sources in a responsible manner that the legato line is broken? It may be modified by the singer as it should be, but where are these breaks in the legato line indicated in the sources, breaks acan be easily heard by most listeners who hear cantatas from the H/L cantata cycle?

Legato, as I understand it, means no break between one note and the next while inflection/expression of the musical melody line nevertheless takes place. Is Butt inferring that the voice or instrument must 'lift off'(cease momentarily emitting sound, creating even the subtlest of breaks between one note and the next) at the end of an unaccented note or the end of a short phrase of two or three notes? If so, then he, in essence, supports Harnoncourt's erroneous understanding of "Klang=Rede." If not, then Butt is correctly describing articulation as it might have been performed during Bach's lifetime and the chain of pearls remains intact.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 28, 2005):
<message was deleted>

Doug Cowling wrote (April 28, 2005):
Shakespeare and HIP

Tom Dent wrote: < This is the normal state of the spoken word, when we are not dealing with politicians in front of teleprompters: silences occur only at punctuation marks, and sometimes not even at commas. The spaces between words on the page may have misled people into thinking that there are spaces between words: not so!
Hence I see no contradiction between Musik-Rede and Agricola who inveighs against un-notated silences in the middle of phrases (or even words). Vocal phrasing is thus a matter of continuous sound, counting vowels and consonants together, which may be quite varied in dynamic and timbre (though not exceeding what would be used in natural speech), between occasional punctuation marks marking the ends of phrases or important articulations within them. Explicit staccato wedges or dots would then denote deviations from this >
I'm not sure Shakespeare is a good example. We have little evidence how his actors performed his poetry and there are several competing traditions even within the 20th century.

One I will call the "naturalistic prose" school which essentially treats the poetry as contemporary conversational prose: running on lines, breaking for emphasis, unexpected stresses. An extreme version would be the recent film of "Romeo and Juliet" with Leonardo Dacaprio where all the dialogue was infused with the rhythms of street talk. We are still very much in a post-Method era.

The other school I'll call the "musical poetic" school. We don't hear this much anymore, but it dominated Shakespearean acting until Olivier and Gielgud's revolution in the 30s and 40's Here the lines are declaimed as set pieces of poetry. The vocal style is almost sing-songy with a marked emphasis on conveying the iambic pentameter metre. The great monologues were treated almost like arias with extravagant vocal effects that sound hopelessly melodramatic to us now (there are some famous recordings from the turn of the century).

Whether this second style reflects received performance traditions that go back to Shakespeare is a controverted point. I find it fascinating that there is practically no interest among theatre types in historically-informed performance. Most directors would roll their eyes if asked to try to recreate the performance style of the early 17th century. When the Globe Theatre was rebuilt in London ten years ago, everyone crowed that it was going to give us "authentic" performances of Shakespeare. What I've seen doesn't even pretend to historical accuracy.

An example. There was a whole vocabulary of rhetorical gesture which actors used. The opening of Hamlet's soliloquy would look like this"

(right hand out to side, palm up)
"To be,"
(left hand out to side, palm up)
"or not to be")
(right index finger into left palm)
"that is the question"
(two fingers to right temple)
"whether it is nobler in the mind"

And so on ...

Any actor who used that set of historically-informed gesture would be laughed off stage today. And yet it can be extraordinarily powerful. Opera Atelier in Toronto uses historical gesture in its performances of Baroque and Classical opera. I will never forget their Sarastro delivering his Act II speech to the Priests with choreographed gestures. For once the spoken dialogue was dramatically worthy of Mozart's music.

Tom Dent wrote (April 28, 2005):
'Legato' versus Parlando: vocal and nonvocal noises

Uri Golomb qeote: < See also several 17th- and 18th-century sources cited by John Butt in Bach Interpretation (http://tinyurl.com/bkmtu), in the section devoted
to "The 'Cantabile' Style" (pp. 11-15). >
Alas, this is a very expensive book, so I will have to rely on others' quotations from it. For a moment I confused the author with John Pike (!)

< According to Butt, "a fundamentally legato style" was increasingly advocated in the 2nd half of the 18th-century -- AFTER Bach's death (p. 15). >
There seems to be some misunderstanding about what I said. The fact that you have prominent voiced and unvoiced consonants means that speech does not approximate to the fundamentally legato or bel-canto style. My hypothesis is quite consistent with a recitative, i.e. parlando in modern parlance, style of singing and playing. Recitative still illustrates the point perfectly: there are no actual silences except at punctuation marks. What there are between pitched vowels are unvoiced consonants, voiced consonants, and glissandi.

If one transfers this to the harpsichord, every note has a little unpitched noise at its beginning and its end when the quill or plectrum and dampers do their stuff. Therefore if the key is fully depressed for only, say, 3/4 of the length of a note at moderate tempo, or even 1/2 the length in fast tempo, there will be no actual silences, even in the driest acoustic (e.g. a bedroom - musique de chambre!). There will however be a definite articulation between notes, as one can hear to some extent in Brad's Gm sinfonia.

The degree of damping is a very important factor here - modern instruments are mostly quite fiercely damped, whereas a Mietke copy I played had much gentler damping so the string continued to sound for some fraction of a second.

< For Bach's predecessors and contemporaries,(...) demand clear enunciation of consonants, and clear accentuation of the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables. >
None of which requires extra pauses, only variations in dynamic.

< Continuous legato was counterproductive for both purposes; and thus, telling players to be more like singers is certainly NOT paramount [?tantamount] to advocating legato playing. >
Since I never did advocate 'legato' in the 19th century sense, this is tangential. But surely good singers are able to combine the impression of legato line with clear pronunciation and suitable accentuation, if they wanted to.

< "the overwhelming evidence from seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century sources is that a detached performance of runs had a priority over a 'legato' style" (p. 13) >
This is a quite different topic: 'runs', i.e. melisma. Melisma is within syllables and has little to do with Musik-Rede, since detached runs do not occur in speech, or would be classed as a speech impediment. Now this word 'detached' is somewhat vague: does it mean aspirated or articulated (in which case a consonantal noise will come between each note), or really staccato? I find it very difficult to sing actual staccato, but quite comfortable to put in mild articulation or accentuation for each note. Test case, 'Eilt ihr angefocht'nen Seelen' from SJP (BWV 245): 'Ei-hei-hei-hei-(...)-heilt'? Or something less 'detached'?

Tom Dent wrote (April 28, 2005):
Taking CPE seriously, staccato /= silence

Bradley Lehman wrote: < What about CPE Bach's explicit instructions about general touch?
- Unmarked notes are held for half their notated length, unless it says "Tenuto"; even in moderate and slow tempos the half-length is the norm. (...) >
I don't know of any performance where a melody is played like this (1/2 length) at slow tempo. Demonstration, please! Though, if you have a melody and a bass line, it sounds perfectly OK for the bass part to be held 1/2 length. I was brought up to make the strong beats longer and weak beats shorter, a la MBoxall, so applying a uniform rule of 1/2 length would not quite do.

< (...) And this is in the same chapter where he's admonishing us to go listen to good singers as the very best way to learn correct delivery. >
Good singers hold their notes for half length in slow tempo? What do they do the other half of the time? Or is this over-literal?

< half-length notes, rather like the clear pronunciation of syllables, and not some long elided line of continuous sound. >
Normal speech ('elided' or not) is continuous sound, even though actual vowels may only take up half the time on average. But if you speak at the rate of a slow melody, your consonants or stops don't take up half the time, unlessssss ... you ... put ...
annnnoyingly ... emphatic ... pauses ... between ... each ... word.

< ["Performance" chapter of the Versuch] >

Does CPE not recognise Überlegato (holding notes beyond their notated length to create harmony)? Internal evidence (explicitly notated passages) suggests that uberlegato was an integral part of JS's keyboard style, and one I find effective in practice.

On the Lautenwerck, as designed by JS himself, although the sound decays fairly quickly, you simply cannot create half-length notes... no dampers!

< (...) the faster notes happening within those bars have some variation of articulation within them, even including plenty of staccato if it properly fits the mood of the passage, while the broad/slow phrase still feels like a flowing legato overall. >
This is a philosophy that I can agree with - Goldberg 13 would be a case in point. But fast staccato notes on the harpsichord do not involve silence, they involve rapid unpitched noises between each pitched note, which normally are covered by the next note, but are much more obvious in staccato. If you listen to staccato on a synthesizer where there is real silence between notes, it just sounds dead.

< (...) focusing on paragraphs and sentences, rather than on individual words or their syllables. >
One has to focus on both, surely!

< It also has some things to do, I believe, with acoustics; the resonance of the hall makes semi-connections of the notes that are played/sung shorter. >
Exactly, it helps to remove 'dead' silences and gloss over unpitched noises, which is why it is so much easier to sing opera in a bathroom. But remember that chamber music was chamber music, designed for small rooms furnished in wood and wool, with a negligible decay time. (Perhaps this is why instruments were much more gently damped.) Playing the Inventions and Sinfonias or solo violin works to a 200-seat auditorium would have been abnormal in the extreme. Even the (lavish?) bedroom in which the Goldberg Variations were played could not have had much of a resonance time.

< (...) organ pedagogy: playing notes that might seem too short when sitting at the keyboard, so that they sound more rounded and perfectly clear the many meters away, where the listeners (and congregational singers) are. All of this clarifies rhythm, too. >
I am talking about what is heard, not what the performer's fingers and feet do. You can play as staccato as you like if it sounds connected to the listeners.

< Likewise, in JSB's book that is explicitly about cantabile playing (the Inventions/Sinfonias) there are plenty of spots that are impossible to play legato, even if one has infused the (I believe incorrect) norm into it that a completely connected legato is the basic touch. >
What I said does not imply 'infusion' of pianistic legato technique (which is quite dull in Bach): only that melodic lines should not be interrupted by silence except at important points of articulation. Within this constraint there is a large variety of possibilities of touch from uberlegato to what Harnoncourt calls cantabile-staccato.

< Here's an excerpt from my recording of a JSB sinfonia, on harpsichord, where I was--I believe--slightly too legato in general! This was in a fairly large and live hall. (...) "Bach-gm-sinfonia-excerpt.mp3" >
In which case, I don't know what we are arguing about, since I can't object to any of the articulation in this short snippet - although I would go for even more uberlegato over the pedal points to create dynamic contrast. (Who says harpsichords have no loud and soft?)

Now, what would happen if you played that in a small room holding each eighth-note half its length?

Tom Dent wrote (April 29, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote: < I'm not sure Shakespeare is a good example. We have little evidence how his actors performed his poetry (...). >
You snipped out the most important part, Hamlet's speech to the Players. Surely that, if anything, is an explicit instruction from Shakespeare as to how his work should be performed: 'trippingly, on the tongue', 'if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines', 'use all gently', etc.

< One I will call the "naturalistic prose" school which essentially treats the poetry as contemporary conversational prose: running on lines, breaking for emphasis, unexpected stresses. >
Shakespeare did write in prose... There are also many verse speeches which require running on through lines to even make sense, although accentuation should still take account of the iambic background.

< The other school I'll call the "musical poetic" school. (...) Here the lines are declaimed as set pieces of poetry. The vocal style is almost sing-songy with a marked emphasis on conveying the iambic pentameter metre. The great monologues were treated almost like arias with extravagant vocal effects that sound hopelessly melodramatic to us now. >
Well, that sounds to me like overstepping the modesty of nature, or even imitating the town crier. Hamlet would not have approved. Though, extravagance may very occasionally be licensed by the extremity of the dramatic situation, as in King Lear act III.

< Whether this second style reflects received performance traditions that go back to Shakespeare is a controverted point. >
It is impossible that they could so do, given that Shakespeare was throughly revived, refurbished, reworked and misunderstood by the likes of Garrick in the 18th century, to the point of giving happy endings to some tragedies. Might as well say that Nikisch reflects Beethoven's performance tradition.

< (...) An example. There was a whole vocabulary of rhetorical gesture which actors used. >
Which actors? Shakespeare himself? Or did he criticize this school of acting speaking through Hamlet?

< The opening of Hamlet's soliloquy would look like this" (right hand out to side, palm up) "To be," (left hand out to side, palm up) "or not to be") (right index finger into left palm) "that is the question" (two fingers to right temple) "whether it is nobler in the mind" And so on ... >
Shaks.: 'Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus;' (...) 'Suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for anything so overdone is [away] from the purpose of playing, whose end (...) is to hold the mirror up to nature (...).'

< Any actor who used that set of historically-informed gesture would be laughed off stage today. >
Shaks.: 'Now this overdone or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve;'

< And yet it can be extraordinarily powerful. Opera Atelier in Toronto uses historical gesture in its performances of Baroque and Classical opera. I will never forget their Sarastro delivering his Act II speech to the Priests with choreographed gestures. For once the spoken dialogue was dramatically worthy of Mozart's music. >
Yet we are speaking of sonic gesture, not visual, and I hope that our Hamlet would not pause in his speech in order to rearrange his hands, or to mime 'slings and arrows', 'there's the rub', 'take arms against a sea', 'shuffled off', 'whips and scorns', 'grunt and sweat'...

Talking of which, presumably Lancaster would illustrate the following line from King Henry part II:

LANCASTER: You are too shallow, Hastings, much too shallow, To sound the bottom of the after-times.

by a fart?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April29, 2005):
<< Here's an excerpt from my recording of a JSB sinfonia, on harpsichord, where I was--I believe--slightly too legato in general! This was in a fairly large and live hall. (...) "Bach-gm-sinfonia-excerpt.mp3" >>
< In which case, I don't know what we are arguing about, since I can't object to any of the articulation in this short snippet - although I would go for even more uberlegato over the pedal points to create dynamic contrast. (Who says harpsichords have no loud and soft?)
Now, what would happen if you played that in a small room holding each eighth-note half its length? >
I tried it and half a dozen of the other sinfonias today over lunch, here at home, in its room of negligible acoustic and with the quavers all played short, unless of course they were tied across a bar or something. It was quite exciting and clear, crisp. :) Not the same harpsichord I recorded on. Now I'd almost like to redo the recordings, playing it all a bit shorter.....

Doug Cowling wrote (April 29, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] Most modern drama critics have always argued that Shakepeare is criticizing the more formal aspects of theatrical conventions and arguing for a more "verismo" style. However, in defence of a more stylized mode of acting, some would argue that the admonition to speak "trippingly" is a specific request to respect the tripping quality of iambic pentameter and not fight against the poetry. Similarly, the criticism of 'sawing" the air is directed to actors who do not have a disciplined rhetoric of gesture. And the use of gesture should not confused with miming every image and metaphor. It is always a disappointment that the "play within a play" in Hamlet is never used as an example of what Late Renaissance acting might look like.

The reason I go on about these questions in period drama is that they remind of the arguments used 40 yrs ago against historically-informed performance in Renaissance and Baroque music. I doubt however that HIP of period drama will ever garner a comparable popularity.


Playing/singing Bach's music correctly, without being "aberrant"

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 29, 2005):
< Why complicate an issue beyond what is necessary? Bach gives us what we need to know in order to pronounce/sing his music correctly. (But then there will always be some aberrant musicologists/musicians who will say: "But perhaps Bach did not mean this, perhaps he meant something else, or perhaps the Greek words should be performed in the Italianate style....") >
Tell us, when the expert services of a medical doctor are required, do you first decide whether in your arbitrary unmedical opinion he/she is "aberrant" and then broadcast that defamatory assessment to your acquaintances? And what does it accomplish, other than earmarking oneself as a person impossible to please, and unable to accept any expert counsel?

But that aside, let's just go ahead and test that assertion "Bach gives us what we need to know in order to pronounce/sing his music correctly" with a simple example. Please provide a recording of your own playing and singing, plus an explanation of your performance choices, for the version of "Ich habe genug / Schlummert ein" that is in the Anna Magdalena collection. This should be easy enough, as it is merely voice and continuo. What instrument(s) will you use, given that nothing is specified? Exactly how will you tune it/them, as to temperament? And at what pitch standard? How exactly will you treat the rhythm of the recitative and its accompaniment? Decisions must also be made, as to the completeness of both the vocal and continuo part: conflate them in from elsewhere, on the portions that are missing? And what will you do with the fact that there are zero continuo figures, as to ascertaining the harmonies that should be played? Remember, you may not use (or even look at) anyone's written-out realization of the continuo part, because that was not written down by Bach. Will the vocal pronunciation be exactly the same as modern German? Why or why not? How will the vocal appoggiaturas be handled, as to timing and articulation and volume? Will any additional appoggiaturas or other ornaments be added? Will all of the vocal line be synchronized exactly with the bass? Will there be any crescendos or decrescendos in the vocal line anywhere? Will all the syllables be sung with exactly the same dynamics, within words or phrases? Why or why not? Again, you may not consult any sources outside the score, whatsoever, because that's the assertion that is being tested here.

This should be a simple-enough request, if everything we need to know is indeed notated there by Bach for our exact reconstruction of his intentions. And it's a nice little piece, not particularly complicated, rather average in that regard. So, please demonstrate. Thank you.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 30, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote: >>But that aside, let's just go ahead and test that assertion "Bach gives us what we need to know in order to pronounce/sing his music correctly" with a simple example....:"Ich habe genug / Schlummert ein" that is in the Anna Magdalena collection.<<
These 'fragmentary' copies/attempts by Anna Magdalena Bach of BWV 82/2,3 in two incomplete, simplistic reductions/transpositions with uncorrected mistakes are not representative of the type of cantata score/parts which Bach normally presented to his musicians for performance!

Check NBA KB V/4 pp. 106 - 111 for details.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 30, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] So, my simple request for a non-aberrant performance, along with its justification on every one of the questioned points, is completely sidestepped. I guess the assertion "Bach gives us what we need to know in order to pronounce/sing his music correctly" was just a bunch of nonsensical and empty rhetoric, then, since there isn't even the attempt to support it.

Doug Cowling wrote (May 30, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] It would interesting to see someone recreate the 18th century Leipzig accent which Bach's singers used. Thoughout the Harnoncourt series I noticed a lot of orthographic differences from Modern German (e.g. "Ich habe genung" vs. "Ich have genug") and wondered if these indicated historic pronunication. Certainly modern choirs tend to choose a high stage pronunciation for Bach, although in North America you can hear "dich" pronounced every way from "dick" to "dish". And many choirs singing Bach's Latin works use Italianate pronunciation rather than German ecclesiatical Latin.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 30, 2005):
Doug Cowling writes: "And many choirs singing Bach's Latin works use Italianate pronunciation rather than German ecclesiatical Latin."
It is unfortunate how the invented 'Ecclesiastical' (quasi-Italianate) Latin pronunciation has become so much the norm, whatever the nationality of the composer, and whenever the piece was composed. It makes life easier for singers, of course, but...

Tom Dent wrote (May 30, 2005):
Incompletely specified non-aberrant perfomances

[To Bradley Lehman]Brad's 'simple request' ran to several hundred words! And the example chosen (no doubt intentionally) is a quite anomalous score when compared with the majority of Bach's work. In fact, 'what Bach gives us' for this piece is nothing, since he gave it to his wife, not to anyone else. So the contentious statement 'what Bach gives us is enough...' is quite inapplicable anyway.

A more representative example is Bach's published work, for example the Partitas - or in general, works clearly intended for presentation or posterity.

The question, or rather the sequence of dozens of questions, was surely very ill-conceived, unless 'all we need to perform correctly' means 'all we need to specify exactly each particular element of the performance'. Which is only the case if there is precisely one 'correct' or non-aberrant method of performance and no other.

Has anyone ever said this or even implied it? Everyone believes that the score allows interpretive freedom while remaining within bounds of 'correctness'. Trying to paint someone as requiring every minute aspect to be fixed beyond doubt is an incredible tactic a straw man.

And I do wonder why the word 'aberrant' is taken as if it were a term of abuse, when many of the greatest performers and perfomances, from Casals and Furtwangler through Klemperer, Horowitz and Gould, have been manifestly aberrant, and even worn their aberrance with pride.

To see some real terms of abuse, just look at how some group members describe others.

In the end, it is hard to see anything in this exchange except a desire to be proved right and to rub your opponent's nose rhetorically in the dust. That sort of spectacle belongs in private, if anywhere.

Still, I will try to make some sense of it.

Let us examine the meaning of 'all you need to make a not aberrant performance'. No-one has pointed out that an ability to read music, and to sing a single note in tune with a keyboard, are also required. And of course Bach has not given those abilities to anyone today. This is surely an equally valid reason for rejecting 'Bach gives us all we need'!

Can it, though, possibly be that we are to assume some level of general musical training and competence from the performer? Or even to credit her with some elementary taste, feeling and judgement? Can it be that armed with these, a performer would in fact, when presented with the score, after due consideration, produce a performance which - even though it might have other deficiencies - would not be called aberrant...?

Or is someone going to say that performances at A=440 Hz are aberrant?

There is actually an extremely easy reply to that roster of questions, which is that for aspects which are not at all specified in the score, the performer is allowed a great deal of latitude, and one cannot object to the 'aberrance' of any performance on those counts. (Although one might object to many other aspects of it.)

I believe the following definition of 'aberrance' will be found to be self-consistent. That each written element of a score is there for a reason, and represents a communication from the composer to the performer; and a performance which evinces that any such communication has been ignored either carelessly or deliberately may fairly be said to be aberrant.

Clearly, this definition allows for a vast latitude of interpretation. The central debate is of course the meaning of each written element of the score, i.e. the intended communication. With respect to many elements, a general musical education, without historical specialization, is enough. (Such a general education would include facts such as, that sometimes extra dynamic shadings are required apart from those notated.)

So I can, without the least specialized scholarship, boldly designate as aberrant a performance in which, where the score has six semiquavers in a particular bar, the performance sounds as if there is one quaver, a semiquaver rest, and five semiquavers. (Let no-one think that I would enforce all semiquavers to be exactly equal in length!) Or in which a note with a dot is played to its full length.

I also tentatively put forward another definition: a not-aberrant performance is one where one could, by listening sufficiently carefully, reconstruct every written element of the score, up to synonyms such as 'ritenuto' vs. 'ritardando'. Note that I do not say every written element and nothing else, since the performers will always add their own nuances, which sound no different from nuances notated by the composer.

And just for starters, Furtwängler's wonderful Brahms First performances are definitely aberrant in tempo, since he speeds up at a place where Brahms says to slow down. (Or is it the other way round?)

John Pike wrote (May 30, 2005):
[To Tom Dent] It is possible to put on a performance of music by Bach with virtually no background knowledge, just suitably able technical and musical people, so to that extent Bach probably does give us everything we need to know in the score. HOWEVER, surely the professionals and scholars who have looked at all these things in much more detail are capable of putting on a much better performance. I have seen this literally hundreds of times through having violin lessons. I can go along to a lesson playing everything exactly as writen on the page but I can come away playing it so much better through some professional input, sometimes to the extent that it sounds like a completely diferent piece!

Playing from a figured bass, moreover, is no mean task. Nor is playing continuo.

I can understand that some people don't like HIP (myself not included) but I cannot understand anyone trying to claim seriously that you can just bypass the professionals and scholars who try to provide helpful guidance and instruction. You can't, and anyone who thinks they can is just plain arrogant and self-deluding.

Of course Brad's task was not simple. That was the whole point. he was trying to demonstrate that doing anything properly requires a lot of knowledge and skill, not easily acquired. Most people faced with such a manuscript would have been lost. So, what does the professional do? Ignore it? Of course not, he must use all the background knowledge at his disposal to fill in the information not on the page. This may have been an extreme case, but I am sure there are plenty of other examples littering Bach's music.

John Pike wrote (May 31, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] You will sometimes hear Berliners saying ich as "ick" and people from Hessen saying dich almost as "dish".



Continue on Part 13


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