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Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 14

 

 

Continue from Part 13

"Seriousness"

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 167 - Discussions Part 2

Doug Cowling wrote (July 27, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < All of the above quotations can be used as evidence to support the idea of moderation, seriousness, but also jubilation expressed in the performance of Bach's cantatas (specifically here, under discussion, the chorale mvts.) as a fervent inner feeling rather than an outward display of virtuosic speed which undermines the significance of the texts which are gloriously set to great music that receives a 'lite' treatment by a number of HIP ensembles. >
I really can't see a distinction in "seriousness" or "gravitas" in Bach's secular and sacred music. The opening of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), "Jauchzet Frohlocket" is full of jubilant coloratura -- the very same music that Bach first wrote for its original version as the secular cantata "Tönet Ihr Pauken". There is no difference in the way the two versions are performed. I would suggest that the only time we can talk about a specifically church style is dictated by genre: thus chorale-based music is exclusively sacred. Although as I said earlier, I believe that "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring' is a gigue with all of the carefree joy of a secular jig.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 27, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote: >>Although as I said earlier, I believe that "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring' is a gigue with all of the carefree joy of a secular jig.<<
But not to be performed as such if you even consider the original context (time and place when and where Bach performed it) and the chorale text itself. I do not expect you to be persuaded by the evidence from the period since you most likely feel more allied to the HIP attitudes and practices of the past half century. There is much evidence (more than I have already shared) that current musicological research conveniently overlooks when approaching this type of performance practice issue.

Here are the original words to the chorale "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" as they appear in the Leipzig version of BWV 147:

Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe,
O wie feste halt ich ihn,
Daß er mir mein Herze labe,
Wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
Jesum hab ich, der mich liebet
Und sich mir zu eigen gibet;
Ach drum laß ich Jesum nicht,
Wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.

[What a blessing it is that I have Jesus
and how I hold onto him so tightly
so that he will refresh my soul
whenever I am ill and sad at heart.
I have Jesus, who loves me
and has adopted me;
Oh, for this reason I will not leave Jesus
Even if my heart is broken.]

Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
Meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
Er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
Meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
Meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
Darum laß ich Jesum nicht
Aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.

[Jesus will remain my joy,
a comfort for my heart and the bringer of good health,
Jesus keeps all suffering away from me,
He is the power of my life,
the delight and sunlight for my eyes,
the treasure and joy for my soul;
For this reason I will not leave Jesus
and lose him from being in my heart and away from my sight.]

What all of this has to do with fiddling a jig at a preposterously fast tempo is something that I have great difficulty understanding.

Just because something is marked as a 3/4 time signature does not mean that it has to become a fast waltz, nor does a 9/8 automatically signify that the excessive characteristics of a gigue need to be emphasized for a listening public not really interested in the words that are being sung.

Lew George wrote (July 27, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I was pleased to read and re-read these translations and feel that guidance on tempo and mood can be found in a context other than the original score. Popular judgement has always had it that Myra Hess captured the essence of this movement. Her biographer (Lewis Foreman, I think) made it very clear that she performed her arrangement to great effect over many years, and even now her recording has the capacity to move greatly. It is no accident, I believe, that Angela Hewitt and Leon Fleisher, our contemporaries, adopt a similar tempo to Hess. These musicians had to have studied the work note by note (Hess went to the trouble of writing it all down, after all) to arrive at their idea of a just tempo and predominant mood. Incidentally, the Oxford edition of Hess's piano score has no tempo marking, just the direction "simple and flowing". The pianists cited here, one "historic" and two "modern (and in the case of Hewitt, most certainly historically informed)" eschew any suggestion of the "carefree joy of a secular gigue". I believe their interpretations lend weight to the argument that the joy in the work is not carefree, but more a ''...refresh(ment) of (our) soul whenever (we) are ill and sad at heart". Mozart's music is often cited in similar terms.

Doug Cowling wrote (July 27, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< [Jesus will remain my joy,
a comfort for my heart and the bringer of good health,
Jesus keeps all suffering away from me,
He is the power of my life,
the delight and sunlight for my eyes,
the treasure and joy for my soul;
For this reason I will not leave Jesus
and lose him from being in my heart and away from my sight.]

What all of this has to do with fiddling a jig at a preposterously fast tempo is something that I have great difficulty understanding.
Just because something is marked as a 3/4 time signature does not mean that it has to become a fast waltz, nor does a 9/8 automatically signify that the excessive characteristics of a gigue need to be emphasized for a listening public not really interested in the words that are being sung. >
"Joy", "delight", "sunlight" ... these sound like a pretty "happy" affect to me. I don't think any of the evidence adduced so far suggests that Bach chose a slower and less artculated manner of performance than in the Gigue of the Third Orchestral Suite or the Fugue in G Major for organ. It would certainly be worth comparing the cantata movements which use a gigue melodic shape and rhythm. At the moment, I have "Happy, Happy We" from Händel's "Acis and Galatea" running through my mind --
and that sounds suspiciously like "Three Blind Mice"!

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 27, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote: >>"Joy", "delight", "sunlight" ... these sound like a pretty "happy" affect to me.<<
and what about "whenever I am ill and sad at heart" and "even if my heart is broken"?

Are you going to have the violinists break off their fast jig temporarily for these lines or simply pretend that they don't exist?

Of course, none of this matters, if you callously disregard the historical evidence, as many HIP conductors apparently have, regarding how Bach's cantatas must have been performed.

I am simply pointing out the 'lite' treatment which some conductors have chosen and which some listeners prefer. This type of performance/recording is ideal for 'background' listening as the emphasis is upon 'piacevole' entertainment that might even lead to some 'toe-tapping' or 'humming-along' on the part of the listener.

Personally, I find this type of treatment appealing and different, but not truly, deeply moving. After hearing various recordings of the same music many times, those with simply the 'appealing' aspects or superficially attractive aspects, because they have been treated very differently, tend to fade more and more into the background and take on a lesser degree of importance. It is then that I return to those performances that are charged with greater depth and profundity. Attempting to see how fast an ensemble can perform a particular mvt. by Bach without losing too many notes, a conductor manages to produce a recording that still somehow sounds like Bach due to the sheer indestructibility of his music without the text or disregarding most of it. However, virtuosic aspect of music-making detracts from or even threatens to destroy whatever profound connection Bach may have established between the words and the music.

John Pike wrote (July 27, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I'm sorry but this is just nonsense. I have never heard a HIP performance of this work that would warrant this sort of attack.

Doug Cowling wrote (July 27, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < and what about "whenever I am ill and sad at heart" and "even if my heart is broken"?
Are you going to have the violinists break off their fast jig temporarily for these lines or simply pretend that they don't exist?
Of course, none of this matters, if you callously disregard the historical evidence, as many HIP conductors apparently have, regarding how Bach's cantatas must have been performed. >
Bach chooses not to illustrate the "dark" sides of the text: there is no chromatic harmonization of particular words or phrases -- something he often did.

I'm still not convinced that Bach would have made a distinction between a secular and a sacred "gigue". I still think that that "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" and the Third Orchestral Suite's gigue would have had the same tempo and articulation.

Where I am in agreement with you is in the problem of tempi which skate across the surface of the music so quickly that there is no real articulation. A recent recording of the wonderful Sinfonia to "Am Abend" was so fast that I simply couldn't hear the notes -- the basson sounded like a pot of coffee perking.

Uri Golomb wrote (July 27, 2005):
(in response to the recent debate)

I would largely concur with Doug Cowling's and John Pike's views on this matter. I'd add that, as often, too much attention is given to tempo as an isolated issue, as if that alone can determine character. To take the chorale that inspired much of this discussion (Jesu, bleibet meine Freude): John Eliot Gardiner and Harry Christophers take it virtually the same (fast) tempo; yet the Gardiner sounds rushed to my ears, whereas the Christophers sounds relaxed, natural and flowing. (I hasten to add that this is not a GENERAL criitique of Gardiner, but only a critique of his performance of this particular chorale on that particular recording. It'll be interesting to hear how he did it in the Pilgrimage). The reason is that Gardiner's dynamics are mostly static, giving a somewhat indifferent impression; whereas Christophers' version handles dynamics and articulation with greater variety, giving due attention to the words (managing to portray the contrasting affections in the text WITHOUT disrupting the flow or changing the tempo) and giving the whole thing a sense of purpose and flow. (Gardiner often excels at achieving precisely this effect, but not in this particular case).

Even if listeners don't agree with me about this particular case, I'm sure they can find similar examples -- of performances which are virtually identical in tempo, but still sound radically different thanks to different handling of dynamics, articulation, timbre, etc.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 27, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote: >>Bach chooses not to illustrate the "dark" sides of the text: there is no chromatic harmonization of particular words or phrases -- something he often did.<<
Not quite so often when he was constrained by the repeated section of a chorale using completely different words/thoughts/feelings/images on exactly the same notes when the section is repeated: compare 'Freude' ('joy') and 'Leide' ('suffering') in BWV 147/10. Simply because Bach does not change the harmonization of particular words/phrases, does not mean that he only wanted the 'joyful jig' notion to apply throughout. Consider also that exactly the same music is used in BWV 147/6 with a different text (a different verse of the same chorale.)

John Pike wrote (July 27, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote: < I'm still not convinced that Bach would have made a distinction between a secular and a sacred "gigue". >
Indeed, and while not a Gigue, the music from BWV 68/2 mentioned in my last e mail was parodied from the secular cantata BWV 208.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 27, 2005):
[To Douyg Cowling] From what I understand the term 'gravitas' goes back to Heinrich Schütz, who used it to characterise German music, in contrast to - in particular - Italian music. Therefore it has nothing to do with the content of compositions or the way they are performed, but mainly how they are composed. It seems to me Schütz specifically referred to the fact that many German composers - and he was certainly one of them - still very much valued the old polyphonic style.

The ensemble La Luna has recorded a disc with German instrumental pieces of the late 17th century, which are (rightly) presented as examples of this German 'gravitas'. And a recent recording by Harmonie Universelle contains some quartets and quintets for strings by Telemann and Fasch, written between 1705 and 1725, and the musicologist Peter Wollny, in his liner notes, stresses that these pieces are written in the traditional 'learned' German style. I think it is safe to say that 'gravitas' and 'learned' (gelehrt) are closely connected.

Both discs contain pieces which are anything but stately and solemn. According to Wollny one movement "combines refined polyphony with virtuosic joy". And La Luna's disc contains even a sonata, which can be considered a kind of musical joke, but it is still written in the 'stylus gravis'.

I don't think any general conclusion can be drawn from this in regard to performance practice. Whether a performance does justice to a composition needs to be assessed specifically on the analysis of that particular piece and the way the performers deal with it. A general statement that 'gravitas' implies a specific approach to - for instance - tempo seems unfounded.

Alain Bruguieres wrote (July 28, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] On the basis of the text you quote, I'm not sure I understand your objections to Doug's views. Consider the following statement.

Even if I feel sad, listening to a Bach cantata always makes me feel great.

Here we have 'I feel sad' and 'makes me feel great'.

How would you describe the emotional ambiance of this statement? Is it bleak? Is it jubilant? Compare with 'When I feel merry, listening to a Bach cantata always makes me feel great'. Is this second statement merrier than the first?

To me - and I think, objectively - the text of 'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring' is definitely and unambiguously joyous.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 29, 2005):
Alain Bruguieres wrote: >>On the basis of the text you quote, I'm not sure I understand your objections to Doug's views.<<
My objections are based upon the historical evidence regarding performance practices most likely to have been adhered to by Bach in the composition and performance of such a chorale as found in BWV 147/6,10.

There is ample evidence that the performance of music was quite different in a church than it would have been in a chamber-music or operatic/theatrical setting.

The expression of 'joy' in a Lutheran chorale set by Bach would not have been equated with the same emotion expressed/performed in a 'Singspiel' or opera. Even the association of one with the other as given in the quotation I shared recently by Christoph Raupach [Hamburg, 1717] was taboo. This is very difficult for us to understand today and, for this reason, many HIP conductors have no problem whatsover in performing this chorale setting as a gigue at lightning speed with strong gigue-like accents (called 'gestures.') These conductors make no distinction between the 'Kirchen-styl', on the one hand, and the 'Kammer-' and Theater-styl' on the other. They simply lump all these styles together, disregarding the historical evidence and failing to make the necessary distinctions. In the case of BWV 147, they fail to understand that joy can be a profound emotion experienced internally without dancing about physically (or even imagining themselves doing so) like a sailor dancing a jig.

>>Only with the Reformation didthe chorale become an integral, indeed central, part of the main church service. By being elevated to liturgical status, the chorale, along with the sermon, helped to effect a fundamental change in the nature of the liturgy. For Martin Luther the church service was no longer a sacramental act alone but also the occasion for the proclamation of the Word among believers: the congregation, united through the act of singing, could participate by responding to the spoken word of the pastor, proclaiming the Gospel and expressing the joy of faith and the praise of God.<< [Robert L. Marshall and Robin A. Leaver - Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2005, acc. 7/28/05]

It is the 'joy of faith' which is being expressed in a German Lutheran manner which is controlled, conservative in nature, and might be described as having much more of 'gravitas' than 'piacevole.' Johann van Veen has recently commented on this as a German characteristic, which sheds a bit more light on this subject.

Along these lines, I just discovered a selection by Johann Mattheson which contrasts the Italian approach with that of the French. Although there is some obvious overstatement/exaggeration on the part of the author, a grain of truth seems to be present, otherwise Mattheson would not have bothered to translate and publish this article that tries to discriminate between national styles of music-making:

"On peut dire encore, que la Musique Italienne ressemble à une Coquette aimable, quoi-que bien fardée, remplie de vivacité, & toujours le pied en l'air, cherchant à briller par tout sans raison & sans sçavoir pourquoi: comme une évaporée, qui fait voir ses emportemens, dans quelque sujet qu'elle puisse traiter: Quand il s'agit d'un amour tender, elle lui fait le plus souvent danser la Gavotte ou la Gique: ne diroit - on pas, que le serieux deviant comique entre ses mains & qu'elle est plus proper aux Ariertes & aix chansonnettes, qu à traiter de grands Sujets semblables en cela à ces Comediens, quin'ayant du talent que pour le comique, reussissent fort mal en tournant la Tragedie en ridicule, quand ils veulents'enmeler: Il faut avouer que la Majesté de la Musique Françoise traite les sujets heroique avec plus de noblesse & convient bien mieux au Cothurne & au Theatre: au lieu que dans la Musique Italienne toutes les Passions y paroissent uniformes. La joie, la colêre, la douleur, l'amour heureux, l'amour qui craint ou qui esperè, tout y semble peint avec les même traits, & du meme caractêre; c'est une Gigue continuelle, toujours petillante ou bondissante."

"Es liesse sich auch sagen, daß die Italiänische Music einer angenehmen / doch sehr geschminkten Buhlerinn gleich siehet / welche / voller Lebhafftigkeit / immer auf dem Sprunge gehet / und allenthalben sich hervor zu thun bedacht ist / ohne Ursache / und ohne zu wissen warum; gleichwie eine Thörinn / die ihre Hefftigkeit sehen läßt, sie habe auch vor / was wie wolle. Soll sie etwann eine zärtliche Liebe vorstellig machen / wird zum öfftern ein Gavott- oder Giquen-Tanz daraus: man sollte schier gedenken / daß alles ernsthaffte Wesen unter ihren Händen zu lauter Possen würde / und daß sie geschickter sey kleine Liedergen / als grosse Sachen zu behandeln. So / wie es gewissen Comoedianten gehet / die nur zu poßirlichen Dingen gemacht sind / und wenn sie etwas trauriges vorstellen wollen / sie übel damit zu Markte kommen / daß man drüber lachen muß. Hergegen muß man von der Französischen Music wohl bekennen / daß sie / mit ihrer Majestät / die heroischen Sachen weit edeler herausbringe / und sich besser zur Tragoedie oder zum Theatro schicke / als die Italiänische Music / darinnen alle Gemüths=Neigungen einerley Ansehen gewinnen. Freude/ Zorn / Schmerz / beglückte Liebe / Furcht oder Hofnung scheinen daselbst mit gleichen Zügen und Eigenschafften abgemahlet zu werden. Es ist eine immerwährende Gique / allezeit hüpfend und springend."

["It can also be said that Italian music is like a coquette who is pleasant, but has applied make-up rather obviously, and who is vivacious and always eager to go anywhere and do anything without reason or knowing why she wants to do this; very much like a birdbrain who lets her lack of constraint indicate to others that she will do whatever she wants. Should she begin to experience a tender love, then she will show this by beginning to dance the gavotte or a gigue: you would have to think that anything serious is transformed in her hands to all sorts of clown-like antics and that she is better suited for presenting little songs than larger/longer musical compositions. This is very much like the situation with certain comedians who are cut out only for performing comic routines, and when they want to present something sad/serious, they market their product so poorly that you have to laugh at them. In contrast you have to admit that the French, with their majestic manner, are able to give a much nobler performance of music involving heroic subject matter and are better suited for performing tragedies or for theater in general than Italian music in which all the emotions appear the same way. Joy, anger, pain, happy love, fear, or hope all seem to be depicted with the same features and characteristics. Such a performance is like an eternal gigue, hopping and jumping about all the time."]

pp. 194-195 from Johann Mattheson's "Critica Musica" Volume I, Hamburg, 1722 in which he translates into German a response by a 'Sieur de Vieuville' (regarding whom Mattheson relates that he is not even certain that this is his right name) to the statements by Abbé Raguenet who had praised lavishly the music of Italy
and had criticized soundly the musical efforts of his countrymen. The discussion between these two men centered mainly upon the differences between French, English and German music.

According to the above, HIP conductors who persist in treating BWV 147/6,10 like a fast gigue, whether flowing very quickly or 'gesturized' to call attention to the chorale-setting's gigue-like qualities, are applying the 18th-century Italian approach which, as indicated above, is likened to a 'coquette' appealing to an audience with outward show and virtuosity while neglecting the deeper, profounder (more majestic) aspects of the text and music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 29, 2005):
"Seriousness" in BWV 147/10

I recommend Andrew Parrott's recording of "Jesus bleibet" that is variously on this and some other "baroque greatest hits" compilations: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00005IA22
The performance has such an easy flow, one to a bar, with gentle shaping of the musical lines and the text. It is outstandingly graceful. In absolute speed it's faster than the Gardiner & Christophers (both 1992), but it seems slower and more relaxed (at least to me) because of that flowing progression at the higher level of note values. Just lovely. I'm also particularly fond of the Christophers, as part of the complete cantata.

I enjoy the classic Dinu Lipatti solo piano performance of Myra Hess's arrangement, for different reasons. And it's approximately half the speed of Parrott's. The music is beautiful both these ways, and others too.

Doug Cowling wrote (July 29, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < According to the above, HIP conductors who persist in treating BWV 147/6,10 like a fast gigue, whether flowing very quickly or 'gesturized' to call attention to the chorale-setting's gigue-like qualities, are applying the 18th-century Italian approach which, as indicated above, is likened to a 'coquette' appealing to an audience with outward show and virtuosity while neglecting the deeper, profounder (more majestic) aspects of the text and music. >
Turning one's nose up at the Italians is a cliche which we see everywhere north of the Alps from the 16th to the 19th century and not just in music. We see the same moralistic condescension in literature, drama and the visual arts. Part of it is an endemic anti-catholicism -- coquettes and eunuchs in church! It's like syphillis. The English called it the "French disease" and the French insisthat it originated in Italy. All of this anti-Italianism has to be taken with very large grain of salt!

Alain Bruguieres wrote (July 29, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Obviously I lack your erudition. Still, for all his seriousness, gravitas, germanhood, whatever you call it, Bach did compose gigues, didn't he? Besides, he apparently took great interest in italian music and did compose in italian style (or rather, incorporating elements of the italian style in his own palette). I like to think that his mind was a much geater one than Mattheson's and to him, music mattered much more than such petty chauvinistic quarrels.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 29, 2005):
Alain Bruguieres wrote: < Still, for all his seriousness, gravitas, germanhood, whatever you call it, Bach did compose gigues, didn't he? Besides, he apparently took great interest in italian music and did compose in italian style (or rather, incorporating elements of the italian style in his own palette). I like to think that his mind was a much geater one than Mattheson's and to him, music mattered much more than such petty chauvinistic quarrels. >
Bach knew Italian styles thoroughly and composed in them brilliantly. Likewise French styles. Likewise the various Germanic styles. Bach was able to blend these tastefully. I've studied/played all of Bach's gigues (or giga or jig or whatever related form, or nomenclature) for keyboard, and many of the others for ensemble; likewise most of those by Froberger, Buxtehude, Reincken, Bohm, Fischer, Purcell, Händel, the Couperins, Chambonnieres, et al. The form is much more broad and expressive in its range than anyone has mentioned in this forum. (Take, for example, one by Froberger from 1656 that dissolves into a free toccata in its last four bars; or Bach's duple gigue at the end of the Partita #6. And are Arcangelo Corelli's essays in this form just a bunch of flippant nonsense, or are they quintessentially Italianate baroque style?)

Any attempts to restrict the whole thing to a sailor dance as if that's all jigs are (and then to claim that "HIP" performers are stupid and tasteless) are just silly, underinformed, caustic, and disrespectful of the achievements of Bach and these other fine composers. It's also grossly insulting of performers who specialize in this repertoire, to allege that we don't bring proper "seriousness" to our work.

John Pike wrote (July 29, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < According to the above, HIP conductors who persist in treating BWV 147/6,10 like a fast gigue, whether flowing very quickly or 'gesturized' to call attention to the chorale-setting's gigue-like qualities, are applying the 18th-century Italian approach which, as indicated above, is likened to a 'coquette' appealing to an audience with outward show and virtuosity while neglecting the deeper, profounder (more majestic) aspects of the text and music. >
The quotations are interesting, but I'm sorry, the paragraph which concluded your e mail is just ridiculous. The approach of HIP conductors to Bach's church music and to Opera is very different. This is very obvious to anyone who has heard recordings from Sir John Eliot Gardiner, for example, of Bach cantatas on the one hand, and operas (by any number of composers) on the other. However, this is not to say that the approach to opera is frivolous. If you have heard his recording of Monteverdi's "Orfeo", for example, you will detect a certain gravitas and profundity amidst some of the delightful dance music. The same gravitas is apparent amidst the comedy in his handling of Mozart's later opera masterpieces.

To characterise his approach to some of the more dancy rhythms to be found in Bach's cantatas as frivolous is just frankly absurd. Surely you can detect the depth and seriousness of approach below the surface in Gardiner's approach to some of these rhythms?

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 29, 2005):
Alain Bruguieres wrote: >>Still, for all his seriousness, gravitas, germanhood, whatever you call it, Bach did compose gigues, didn't he?<<
Yes, and he probably learned how to apply the gigue form/meter to church compositions from Buxtehude. The question still remains (and this is something that many HIP musicians refuse to become cognizant of) whether the performance of such a gigue in a church setting was exactly the same as it might have occurred in a chamber music concert, or and outdoor or coffee-house environment. For numerous HIP conductors and musicians, the performance is based more upon what might attract an audience (sheer virtuosity and display being more important than inner, heart-felt joy) than how the words of chorale in a gigue-like time signature might affect the interpretation along with the fact that the music is being performed in a church.

Hermann Finck, in 1556, wrote about the characteristics of the various church modes (at that time these were very important) and describes one of these, the Lydian, as being "not unlike the sanguine temperament and corresponding with cheerfulness, friendliness, and the gentler affects, since it pleases most of all, it averts quarrels, calms agitation, fosters peace, and is of a jovial nature. It is the joy of the sorrowful, the restoring of the desperate, the solace of the afflicted."

Now consider an extemely fast, gigue-like interpretation of a chorale setting by HIP conductors today and it will become apparent that such a setting by Bach expressing 'joy' with a gigue-like time signature really meant something quite different: peacefulness, calmness in the face of adversity and affliction, the restoring of one's soul, and the 'gravitas' of the 'joy of the sorrowful.'

This in addition to the 'joy of faith' which I pointed out yesterday gives a rather clear idea of certain aspects of 'joy' which can not be expressed in the 'hopping', 'jumping' 'jig-like' joy or the 'let's-see-how-fast-we-can-perform-this-mvt.' type of joy that occurs all to frequently in present-day Bach recordings.

There simply is no place here for 'dancy rhythms' unless you happen to be HIP conductor who is oblivious to the strict separation of Church style, on the one hand, and Chamber- and Theatrical styles on the other.

>>Besides, he apparently took great interest in italian music and did compose in italian style (or rather, incorporating elements of the italian style in his own palette).<<
This is certainly true. Did I ever deny this?? But remember, also, that Bach selected only that which he deemed to be the best of Italian or French music. And for his performance style, Bach certainly would not have chosen to sound like many of the HIP conductors and artists when they approach Bach's sacred music. These performers are more interested in creating the 'piacevole' (agreeable sounding - 'lite'-entertainment) effect or in distorting its performance with exaggerations that distract from the contemplation of the sacred texts that have been set to this music.

>>I like to think that his mind was a much geater one than Mattheson's<<
I do not doubt this either, particularly if you consider Bach's musical genius, but then others like Telemann or Graupner who were quite famous in their time seem quite overrated by their contemporaries when they are compared with Bach today. Mattheson was quite a capable musician and composer (among his other activities) and gave us an insight into musical issues which were being discussed in the first half of the 18th century. Bach, unfortunately, left us with very little in this regard, so it becomes important to seek out and examine sources such as Mattheson's writings in order to understand better the time and musical environment in which Bach also lived and worked. Mattheson gives us some clues that will help present-day HIP conductors and ensembles understand better how Bach's music was performed and what it must have sounded like. What I have discovered is that there is a disparity between such historical evidence and the practices employed by various HIP ensembles.

>>and to him, music mattered much more than such petty chauvinistic quarrels.<<
I can easily imagine Bach discussing with others the performances of Italian vocalists and instrumwho were present in most of the courts and opera houses of northern Europe in Bach's time. He would certainly have quickly discerned the good and bad qualities of such performers and whether they would be suited for performing his sacred music. I am certain that others would have disagreed with Bach on his criticisms, called him a chauvenist, and would have preferred the excessive ornamentation/embellishments indulged in by these artists. Good taste and suitability for a specific type of music were part of the experience that Bach had acquired even before he accepted his position in Leipzig. He would not have tolerated some of the HIP performances that have been recorded over the past half-century.

Doug Cowling wrote (July 29, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Yes, and he probably learned how to apply the gigue form/meter to church compositions from Buxtehude. The question still remains (and this is something that many HIP musicians refuse to become cognizant of) whether the performance of such a gigue in a church setting was exactly the same as it might have occurred in a chamber music concert, or and outdoor or coffee-house environment.
Hermann Finck, in 1556, wrote about the characteristics of the various church modes (at that time these were very important) and describes one of these, the Lydian, as being "not unlike the sanguine temperament and corresponding with cheerfulness, friendliness, and the gentler affects, since it pleases most of all, it averts quarrels, calms agitation, fosters peace, and is of a jovial nature. It is the joy of the sorrowful, the restoring of the desperate, the solace of the afflicted." >
Well, if you're looking for lack of "seriousness", you only have to play Buxtehude's Gigue Fugue in C Major. Not only does it have a rolicking melody which really puts the jig back in gigue, but it it is full of comic echo effects and tripping syncopations. I've even heard people laugh out loud at Buxtehude's effects. (although that may be at my technique!) The closing bars when a very "serious" pedal scale enters and brings the jollity to a close is quite hilarious -- like a father cutting short a daughter's night on the town.

As to evocations of the various "affects" of the classical modes, scholars have long recognized that such schemas are literary affectations with no practical applications in music. Renaissance polyphony grew out of the modal harmonies of Gregorian chant which does not display any emotional connections with various modes. In fact, one sees as late as the early 17th century composers writing "sad" music in major key modes and "happy" music in minor key modes. Thomas Weelkes is a paramount example of this practice. This, when someone in the late 16th to 18th century talks about the power of modes, they are merely indulging in a literary conceit about the power of music rather than reflecting contemporary music practice.

Doug Cowling wrote (July 30, 2005):
Tempo changes in da capo arias


Thomas Braatz wrote: < It would appear that over a century after Bach's first performance of this cantata, 'joy' was already beginning to be equated with 'fast.' >
A marked change of tempo in the B section of a da capo aria by Bach is a rare bird indeed. In fact, the only one which comes readily to mind is "Es ist Vollbracht" in the SJP where Bach's manipulation of the da capo structure is breathtaking: the symbolic shortened retrun of the A section is one of the supreme moments in all music.

It was interesting to hear Renee Fleming bluster her way through three Händel arias last night in the "Live from Lincoln Centre" telecast of the opening concert of the Mostly Mozart Festival. They set off at such a clip for "Let the Bright Seraphim" that it was impossible to maintain the tempo for the B section. There was a terrible grinding of gears as they pulled back for "Let the celestial choir" even though there is no change of marking despite "traditional" practice. As if that wasn't bad enough, they set off on a THIRD tempo, even faster than the first, for the da capo. Händel certainly used tempo changes in the B section more often than Bach, but this was pretty awful.

OFF TOPIC: When did Renee Fleming start using such a heavy chest sound in Baroque music? The opening "Semele" aria sounded like Callas!.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 30, 2005):
Quantz on music criticism, published 1752:
"Music is an art that must be judged not by personal whims, but by certain rules, like the other fine arts, and by good taste acquired and refined through extensive experience and practice; for those who wish to judge others should understand as much as, if not more than those they judge. These qualities, however, are rarely encountered among those who occupy themselves with judging music, the majority being governed by ignorance, prejudices, and passions that are most obstructive to equitable judgement. Thus many people who say that they enjoy music would do better to keep their judgements to themselves and listen with greater attentiveness. If they listen more for the sake of judging the performer than of enjoying the music, they voluntarily deprive themselves of the greater part of the pleasure that they might experience. And if, even before the musician has concluded his piece, they are at pains to press their false opinions upon their neighbours, they not only destroy the musician's composure, but also make it difficult for him to conclude his piece with good heart, and show his ability as well as he might. For who can remain unperturbed and calm when he perceives disapproving countenances here and there among his listeners? Moreover, the incompetent judge always risks betraying his ignorance to others who are not of his opinion and perhaps understand more than he, and therefore may expect little gain from his judgements. Thus you can see how difficult it actually is to take upon yourself the office of music critic, and to acquit yourself of it with honour."

Summary: to judge the worthiness of "HIP" (historically informed performance practices), and the worthiness of other people's aesthetic senses, and the worthiness of other people's delivered work, if there's any hope of objectivity whatsoever in such practice of criticism, one should probably start with music lessons in the practices being judged...i.e. composition, improvisation, interpretation, playing techniques, directing performances, singing or playing solos, liturgical musicianship and responsibilities, ....

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 30, 2005):
>>Quantz on music criticism, published 1752:<<

Quantz on the performance of church music, published
1752:

"Die Kirchenmusik muß man auf zweyerley Art betrachten, nämlich: als die römischkatholische, und als die protestantische....Ueberhaupt aber wird in der Kirchenmusik der Katholischen mehr Lebhaftigkeit anzubringen erlaubet, als in der Protestanten ihrer....Ueberhaupt wird zur Kirchenmusik, sie möge bestehen worinn sie wolle, eine ernsthafte und andächtige Art der Composition, und der Ausführung, erfodert. Sie muß vom Opernstyle sehr unterschieden seyn....Bey Beurtheilung einer Kirchenmusik, welche entweder zum Lobe des Allerhöchsten aufmuntern, oder zur Andacht erwecken, oder zur Traurigkeit bewegen soll, muß man Acht haben, ob die Absicht, vom Anfange bis zum Ende beobachtet, der Charakter einer jeden Art unterhalten, und nichts, was demselben zuwider ist, mit eingemischet worden sey....(diese [Schreibart] ist aber der höchste Grad der musikalischen Wissenschaft)...."

["Church music should be considered from two perspectives, namely, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant form of church music..Actually, it is permissible to display more liveliness/briskness (play faster with greater animation) in the performance of Catholic church music than in the performance of Protestant church music..In regard to church music generally, no matter what form it happens to take, it requires a serious and reverent manner of composition and of performance. It must be very distinctly different from the style of performing operas..In judging such church music [the composition and performance thereof] wis supposed to either encourage the listeners to praise Almighty God or to awaken a feeling of devotion, or move the listener toward sadness, it is important to look after/make certain whether the proper intention has been observed from the beginning until the end, that the character of any particular type has been sustained throughout, and that nothing has been mixed in which runs contrary to this..(the writing/composing of this type of music is the highest level of musical knowledge).."

From this it appears that the mixing in of Italianate characteristics of composing and performing church music, particularly when these involve playing at a very brisk, lively tempo most of Bach's cantata mvts., is something that Quantz, the self-appointed critic of these matters with years of composing and performing mainly hundreds of flute concerti, would quickly criticize in numerous performances/recordings given by HIP ensembles during the past half century.

Quantz points to the general seriousness (which most HIP conductors have tended to overlook) which should pervade the performances of Bach's sacred music. Where is there a feeling of reverence in a 'lite' performance of an opening chorale mvt. of a Bach cantata? Where is there seriousness in the 'chop, chop, chop' 'thump, thump, thump' of a final chorale rendition by some of thes HIP groups? How do the 2- to 3-note phrases (called 'gesturing') contribute to the feeling of devotion and encourage the praise of God? How can a performance which rushes everything from the beginning to the end of a mvt., cutting the values of many notes and de-emphasizing other to the point of inaudibility because they do not fall under a heavy accent, be considered a reasonable representation of that type of music which Quantz calls "the highest level of musical knowledge/science?"

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 30, 2005):
< Quantz points to the general seriousness [of church music] >
True....

< (which most HIP conductors have tended to overlook) >
An unwarranted speculation, unsupported by evidence, and not having anything to do with Quantz...and it also implies that these "HIP conductors" are both less intelligent/sensitive and less "HIP" than the critic believes he himself is....

< which should pervade the performances of Bach's sacred music. >
And ba-bing, "HIP" is wrong, and Bach is being pillaged by his specialists; and therefore any other people who would really want to know Bach's spirituality and practice should listen not to specialist musicians, but rather to the opinions of critics who haven't bothered to study music (or aesthetics) formally.

Well, that doesn't follow.

Furthermore, to be clear on this from actually reading Quantz's book: Quantz was not writing specifically about Bach's church music, but simply church music in general, within his broader presentation of various French/German/Italianate styles, a sweeping practical survey of musicianship. Wasn't another part of this argument (not Quantz's, but our modern critic's) that Bach's church music stands apart from that of his contemporaries anyway? But now Quantz is being lassoed to aid in the task of beating up "HIP" musicians!

Just clarifying the illogic that is being put forth here as pseudo-objective criticism!

Really, it all just looks to me like an attempt to rationalize a personal distaste for "HIP" practices that are not understood/appreciated/practiced by the critic, and to make it look as if those practices are somehow objectively mistaken.

If we are to take Bach really seriously: would Bach not assume that those who propose to criticize his work should have been trained in the practical arts of musicianship, as a first step toward understanding his work and his expectations?



Continue on Part 15


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