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Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 16

Continue from Part 15

Bradley Lehman wrote (August 3, 2005):
"Seriousness" & the 48

John Pike wrote:
< Thank you, Alain, for this very thoughtful e mail. I absolutely agree about the intermingling of styles. For me, the 48 and the solo violin works are some of the most spiritual music Bach wrote. I was listening to
Rosalyn Tureck's 1975 recordings of the 48 on my way into work this morning and thought how deeply spiritual the music was. >
Pablo Casals started off every day playing some of the 48 to himself as private meditation, to set the spirit of the day. I do that myself, too, as much as schedule allows; should be even more disciplined about doing it every day. It really does establish good focus of balance, grace, hope, etc even in the movements where the music seems to be staring into an abyss, or almost too abstruse to comprehend, or occasionally flirting with banality. There is an intermingling of everything, and it emanates from the expressive range of a specific tuning. A whole universe (defined in Bach's private copy of the first 24) is in the 48, for the playing...which is a physical process of doing, and not merely listening to someone else do it. The exploration is somewhat different every time, and there is always more to find. The music's tensions and relaxations are astounding. Solemnity is only one limiting approach among many others.

Recall that Casals also spent some 30 years studying the Bach cello pieces before daring to play any of them in public, and likewise the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) some 40 or 50 years before daring to conduct it. I wish he had recorded the latter, plus some glimpse of his daily piano regimen with the 48! But recordings are only that, a glimpse. The music is the doing of the appointed tasks.

Peter Bright wrote (August 3, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Pablo Casals started off every day playing some of the 48 to himself as private meditation, to set the spirit of the day. >
As did Chopin, I believe:

"'Play Bach's Preludes and Fugues every day,' [Chopin] wrote to one of his pupils. 'This is the best school; no one will ever create a better. . . .Without Bach, you cannot have freedom in the fingers, nor a clear or beautiful tone. . . .Everything he does is perfect; it is not possible to imagine it otherwise, and the slightest change would spoil everything.'"

John Pike wrote (August 3, 2005):
[To Peter Bright] The subject of another current thread, András Schiff, also plays bits of the 48 every day, in preference to scales and arpeggios. I heard him say so in an interview many years ago on the BBC.

John Pike wrote (August 3, 2005):
[To Chris Kern] For a number of years I attended an evangelical church where I played in a small orchestra. there were times when I felt the music making was "just trying to make as much noise as fast as possible", to paraphrase one of Thomas' recent comments. I cannot see that that was either appropriate or reverent. It certainly didn't feel like good music making. I think I know what some of the commentators that Thomas has quoted recently meant in their criticisms of certain types of music making in church. I am reminded of the quote attributed to Bach, in the treatise on figured bass (I think) that the purpose of all music was to give glory to God and pleasure to the soul, and everything else was a devilish hub-hub. Some of what we did at my previous church certainly felt like devilish hub-hub, ineffectual showing off and too fast. I would never dream of using such adjectives about any of the many HIP performances/recordings I have heard of Bach cantatas. Even with the faster pace, they show so many qualities of attention to detail, phrasing, the overall shape and feel of the music, all delivered by top professionals, dedicated to their art and trying to do as good a job as possible. In any case, standards and competition these days are so tough that anyone not commited to these highest standards will soon find him or herself out of a job, so there is another very good reason for aiming for these highest standards. However, I am sure the main reason why people are commited to attaining such high standards is nothing less than total dedication to their art.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 4, 2005):
It is interesting to note that such a reference book on matters concerning Bach's life and music, the OCC or "Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach" [Oxford University Press, Boyd, ed., 1999], has considerably difficulty in coming to terms regarding the significant division between 'Church,' 'Chamber,' or 'Theatrical' styles of composition and performance which are referred to by all the important musicological references in the 1st half of the 18th century. Such an oversight on the part of Boyd and all those who wrote articles contained therein simply points to either ignorance or bias which might cause such an omission.

The closest the reader can come to understanding anything at all about the division of these major styles is presented in an article by Konrad Küster on "Cantata." To his credit, Küster, in the restricted space alloted to him, is the only contributor in this book who even mentions this division and he happens to be discussing secular cantatas in this section of his article and wishes to make a point about the 'Chamber' style of composing and performing; unfortunately, however, the 'Church' style is glossed over so quickly that all the reader can infer from Küster's description is that 'Church' style reflects the place where it is performed. The rest is left up to the imagination of the reader. This is not very helpful since nowhere else in this book is the division and description of these styles indicated.

Stephen A. Crist, writing of the 'Recitative', makes no mention of the stylistic divisions, but does at least remark on the distinction between church recitatives and those of the other two categories:

>>However, in his church cantatas the recitatives are more often didactic (e.g. summaries of doctrine or Christian experience) rather than outwardly dramatic.)<<

This 'loaded' statement [the 'loaded' word is 'didactic') makes it appear that 'church' recitatives are a step downward or backward from the heights of the operatic recitative.

Toward the end of his article, Crist makes an astute observation: >>Correct performance of Bach's recitatives involves knowledge of several conventions not reflected in the notation..<< Would this not be the appropriate place to mention what Heinichen, Walther, Mattheson, Quantz, etc. have indicated regarding the specific differences in recitatives between the three major styles? Yes, but instead of this, Crist cites unproven theories about >>the 18th-century convention of 'short accompaniment.<< What a disappointment!

Michael Marissen, writing on the topic of the 'Musical Offering' points out that Bach's contemporaries had a 'real nose' for what constituted 'Church,' 'Chamber,' or 'Theatrical' style of composing and performing:

>>Such music [referring to parts of the MO], as we know Frederick said disparagingly of other works in this style, 'smells of the church....'

For Bach to write 'consecrate an offering' makes his collection 'smell of the church' right from the outset.<<

It would appear that musicological experts in the OCC (with the exception of the indirect reference by Küster) have either overlooked or avoided clear references to the three major sytles of composing and performing in Bach's time. If they have overlooked it, then there is hope that a subsequent edition of the OCC will correct this oversight. If they have avoided discussing it, then this might mean that there is a tacet agreement among many experts and practicing musicians, particularly among those known to adhere to HIP, that by drawing a sharp distinction between these stylistic categories, this would, in some way, limit the flexibility currently available to treat sacred, chamber-music, and operatic styles the way, thus allowing these styles to 'flow together' and allowing all performing musicians involved to do 'as they see fit' or 'whatever it takes' (which amounts to taking the easiest road and not worrying about differences in performance styles.) [Immanuel Kant: "Human beings are by nature lazy."] Imposing stylistic restrictions upon professional performers who deem themselves fully trained and educated as well as above reproach, means that they will have to undo many habits which are already engrained and learn to limit themselves in ways that seem uncomfortable to them.

If the various historical sources by important musical experts (true practitioners!)from Bach's time did not confirm these distinctions by making the same point, then perhaps there might be some reason to doubt their veracity. But this is not the case. It is time now, not 'to sweep this matter under the carpet' as something insignificant or bothersome, but rather to examine and contemplate this material while ascribing to it the respect and value which it deserves.

A truly worthy performance/recording of a Bach sacred cantata will reflect a deeper insight into this matter. It will be up to reasonable listeners to decide whether this higher, nobler goal (not simply thinking that 'lite' entertainment well-performed is good enough) is being addressed in such a performance/recording.

Doug Cowling wrote (August 5, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< A truly worthy performance/recording of a Bach sacred cantata will reflect a deeper insight into this matter. It will be up to reasonable listeners to decide whether this higher, nobler goal (not simply thinking that 'lite' entertainment well-performed is good enough) is being addressed in such a performance/recording. >
Thomas, you have yet to define what this "noble", "solemn" church styles means in practical terms of tempi, dynamics, articulation, ornamentton. And I just don't accept that secular and by extension abstract music cannot be "high" and "noble". The Brandenburgs and the Well-Tempered represent some of the highest and noblest achievements of western civilization.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 5, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>Thomas, you have yet to define what this "noble", "solemn" church styles means in practical terms of tempi, dynamics, articulation, ornamentton.<<
Fast tempi, such as some of the extremely fast tempi heard in a number of the recorded sacred cantata cycles (more frequently HIP than otherwise,) are not conducive to promoting 'serious/solemn,' and 'noble,majestic' thoughts and feelings among the listeners. The solid foundation which the performance of Bach's sacred cantatas demands is undermined by taking a fast tempo, a tempo too fast to do justice to all the notes in the score. In the process of speeding up the tempi, singers tend to sing more sotto voce and players tend to simply 'tap' the notes lightly, abbreviating the prescribed values which Bach set down in the score and using excessive staccato. The dynamics also tend to suffer in tempi that are too fast: everything becomes softer and lighter, hence the 'lite' entertainment effect which results from such a treatment. Articulation needs to be exaggerated more at faster tempi creating a very noticeable, uneven effect which is anything but 'noble' or 'dignified.' The unaccented notes after the accented notes are severely reduced in volume (barely or completely inaudible) and in duration: quarter notes can become eighth notes or even less. The attempt to include additional ornamention, particularly at this faster tempo, is also problematical: there may be instances of virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity which no longer is guided by the exquisite 'good taste' which Bach composed into the score.

Tempi which are too slow can bring about an entirely different set of problems. What is needed is a more commonsense, more middle-of-the-road approach. This along with conductors, singers and instrumentalists who have been able to tap a strong feeling that comes from understanding the text as part of a church service and what Bach is trying to do with the music to enhance 'dignity' and 'seriousness,' will help to lead away from the general direction of 'lite' sacred music (an oxymoron) toward a better recreation of what Bach may have experienced and wanted his audience to experience. Heinichen, Mattheson, Walther, and Quantz have agreed on the general characteristics of the 'Church Style.' It will now be up to us to determine how this can be accomplished so that a sacred Bach cantata does not suffer performances/recordings which are overly lugubrious and soporific, but also not of the 'lite' type which I have referred to frequently in these discussions. Another danger is the overplaying of the rhythmic dance elements as if the conductor deliberately wants the audience to recognize a sacred cantata mvt., or even one from a Passion, as a waltz or some classical French dance. Such performances of Bach's cantatas during his tenure in Leipzig would certainly have done more than just raise a few eyebrows! Such dance interpretations belong to the Chamber-music or Theater/Opera style of composition and performance and not the Church style.

>>And I just don't accept that secular and by extension abstract music cannot be "high" and "noble". The Brandenburgs and the Well-Tempered represent some of the highest and noblest achievements of western civilization.<<
I agree, but many factors are necessary for creating 'high' and 'noble' performances of secular and abstract music. Selected movements from the Brandenburg Concertos performed in church would have sounded different in a church by virtue of the type/style of performance as an introductory movement to a sacred cantata than the same mvts. performed by Bach's 'Collegium musicum' in a coffee house in Leipzig where travelers visiting the Leipzig Fair came to be entertained. A prelude and/or fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier would be performed differently (and would have sounded 'higher' and 'nobler') played on a church organ [Kirchen-Stylo] than the same mvts. performed at home on a clavichord [Kammer-Stylo.]

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 5, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>Now we're getting closer to the practical heart of the matter. I still don't believe that "solemnlty" and "nobility" are exclusive qualities of sacred music. The opening of the D Major Orchestral Suite never fails to send a shiver down my spine with its solemnity and nobility.<<
If you are referring to BWV 1069 [BWV 1068 is also an orchestral suite in D major], the Bach used this composition and further amplified it with 'Choreinbau' in BWV 110/1 for the 1st Day of Christmas: "Unser Mund sei voll Lachens." This would certainly be what Bach wanted: Solemnity and nobility coupled with a deep, heartfelt joy, not a frivolous or dainty joy, nor a let's-get-the-farmers-together-for-a-jamboree type of joy with rhythmically stomping feet and all that.

>>And you can't tell me that the duet "Wir Eilen" in Cantata 78 was not meant to suggest secular joy with its very folk-like cello solo.<<
...a subdued suggestion of joy, but not with an overt attempt to overplay this aspect as a number of recordings do.

See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV78-D.htm

comments on mvt. 2

>>Where I agree with you totally is disappointment when overly fast tempi are chosen in BOTH sacred and secular music. One of the worst offenders in this area is Robert King. His recording of Händel's "Joshua" (a great masterpiece!) is full of tempi which skate across the surface of the music: listen to "Haste, Israel, Haste" in which the actual notes are almost inaudible, let alone having any articulation.<<
I agree, and I do like your descriptive phrase "skating across the surface of the music" for this is exactly what we get too much of in many of the HIP Bach cantata series recordings.

Doug Cowling wrote (August 5, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< /..a subdued suggestion of joy, but not with an overt attempt to overplay this aspect as a number of recordings do. >
Subdued"?!! I would propose this duet as an example of a rbit of secular fiddling. It has an "affect" which is even more folk-like than anything in the "Peasant" (BWV 212) or "Coffee" (BWV 211) Cantatas. And it's not even the refined arcardianism of the "Pifa" in the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). The hooting thirds of "zu dir" have all the charm of farmers waving at someone going by in a haycart. I think Bach intended those delightful effects -- after all, many of Luther's chorales were based on seculak tune. On a theological level, Christ does not dwell in some Platonic ether of timeless majesty but came to earth and "dwelt among us". It's part of the humanity through which Bach expresses the doctrine of the Incarnation.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 5, 2005):
Church style = 'Andacht' = devotion, reverence

Johann Mattheson, in his 2nd part of the
'Orchestre=Schriften': "Das beschützte Orchestre"
[Hamburg, 1717] pp. 139-140

"Ob nun zwar aus angeführten ein jeder 'attenter' Leser / ohne viel Mühe / auf die sehr sinnreiche Frage des Wiedersachers: "was heut zu Tage zwischen Kirche='Theatral-' und Cammer=Music für ein Unterschied sey?" leicht besser antworten kan / als der Herr Organist selbst / wenn er spricht: "Es sey fast eine / wie die andere;" so gebühret uns doch mit Fleiß zu zeigen / daß hauptsächlich die Andacht / so man GOtt mit der Music in der Kirchen schuldig ist; das prächtige und erfreuliche Wesen / so man in 'Theatris' suchet / und denn die Liebligkeit und Anmuth / welche zwar ein jeder 'Stylus' nach seiner Art / eine Cammer=Music aber insonderheit erfordert / die wichtigsten 'Characteres' sind und seyn müssen / eine Art von der andern zu unterscheiden. Bey dem ersten muß die kindliche Furcht alle gar zu wilde Einfälle und Fastasten zähmen; das hertzliche Vertrauen aber unsere Geister würklich erheben / und die wahre Empfindung göttlicher Güte und Liebe unsere danckbahre Stimmen und Instrumente mit heiliger Freude / ja mit Himmlischen Frolocken / anfüllen; welches denen nur 'profan' vorkommt / die mit 'profanen' Vorsatz und Vorwitz die Kirchen besuchen / damit sie etwas zu tadeln finden.<<

["The question now arises whether every attentive reader who has read my previous commentary on this matter will now be better informed than the organist {the opponent raising the question} in order to more easily be able to answer the very profound question raised by my opponent: "What differences are there today between church, theater or chamber music?" [implying that there really is no difference between them, is there?] His answer was: "There is almost no difference between them." It is our duty to make a sincere effort to point out that the most important characteristic traits distinguishing between all three styles must be the following: in church it is mainly the devotion/reverence which you owe God in the performance of music; in theater it is the magnificence and the happiness, in the chamber (music) it is sweetness/charm and grace which is demanded (all three categories possess the the latter, but in conformance with each individual style.) With the church style, a child-like fear must tame all ideas/whims to have (and carry out in musical performance) wild and fantastic/exaggerated ideas, a heartfelt trust should uplift our spirits and the true sensing/experiencing of heavenly goodness and love should enter with a sacred joy into our grateful voices and instruments; yes, it should be a heavenly jubilation which will appear to be profane to those who visit our churches with a profane intention and curiosity so that they might discover something to criticize."]

The latter critics might include the strict Pietists who were still attempting to remove figural music entirely from the Lutheran churches.

It is clear from the above that devotion and reverence are the most important traits in church music performances. This does not exclude charm and grace from being present in church music performances as well, but they have to be modified in their expression, in other words, much more under control than in chamber or theater music. A child-like fear and trust in God as well as demonstrating what we owe Him are restraining elements that guide the individual performers from exceeding the limits/boundaries prescribed by the church style of performance. When these guidelines are followed a marvelous transformation takes place within the performers as they sense divine goodness and love which can be expressed as a controlled jubilation, which does not allow wild, uncontrolled musical exaggerations of joy.

Doug Cowling wrote (August 5, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< It is clear from the above that devotion and reverence are the most important traits in church music performances. This does not exclude charm and grace from being present in church music performances as well, but they have to be modified in their expression, in other words, much more under control than in chamber or theater music. A child-like fear and trust in God as well as demonstrating what we owe Him are restraining elements that guide the individual performers from exceeding the limits/boundaries prescribed by the church style of performance. When these guidelines are followed a marvelous transformation takes place within the performers as they sense divine goodness and love which can be expressed as a controlled jubilation, which does not allow wild, uncontrolled musical exaggerations of joy. >
None of the adjectives in Matheson or in Thomas's commentary are musical terms: "controlled jubilation" vs. "wild, uncontrolled exaggerations of joy"???? The ubiquitious Toccata in D Minor is pretty orgiastic.

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 5, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>The ubiquitious Toccata in D Minor is pretty orgiastic.<<
The authenticity of BWV 565 has been doubted by some experts on account of stylistic characteristics that are unusual for Bach. It could possibly be an arrangement by Bach of another composer's work or simply be by another composer entirely. In any case, Stauffer's 'guesstimate' as to its possible date of origin is quite early: 1704. Rather atypical Bach upon which to base an opinion as to how Bach's sacred cantatas were performed from 1723-1750 in Leipzig.

Neil Halliday wrote (August 6, 2005):
Chris Kern wrote:
"I personally find it hard to appreciate and comprehend the discussions,."
I'm finding the issues more complex as the discussion progresses; while passion might be appropriate, wild, empty dancing might not be.

Re Harnoncourt's BWV 147 chorale, I can see how you might prefer it to Leusink's performance - it does have more shape, and is without excessive gesture in the vocal parts. My problem, I think, was adjusting to the "bouncy" continuo line, straight after listening to Richter's recording.

 

Quantz quotes, etc

Continue of discussion from: Flute in Bach's Vocal Works - Part 2 [General Topics]

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 29, 2006):
>>Quantz wrote this: "Notwithstanding all the liveliness required in the Allegro, you must never lose your composure. (...) <<
< Thanks for sharing this wonderful quotation. Many HIP performances (such as those recorded and still be >recording cantata performances) could benefit immensely from reading and pondering seriously the implications of this statement. >
Well, you're welcome; glad it's enjoyable. I don't see how "HIP performances" can "read" or "ponder" anything, and I won't make too much of the implication (with which I disagree!) that it's only "HIP performers" who allegedly need to do their homework on matters of aesthetics or musical technique.

Here's another quote I like, this time from Robert Marshall in a review written 1973: "The truly authentic performance of a composition has always been expected to be faithful to all the known hard historical facts pertaining to performance practice at the time the work was written. But we are now wise enough to realize that not all the known facts may be relevant; and many of them may even contradicone another. This touches the heart of the authenticity dispute, which is primarily a matter not of facts but of discretion. The attributes of authenticity can readily be agreed upon, but they can be so variously evaluated in relation to one another that unanimity on even the 'objective' criteria for judging a conscientious, that is, historically minded, performance of older music will never readily be attained. (...) Even if we could determine precisely what all the facts are and then go on to reconstruct the original historical situation in every detail, we still would not be justified to claim authenticity unless we had established that the particular factual constellation was intentional and not accidental."

< Add to the above the recognition of a special 'church style' of playing which differs from that of the opera/theater and chamber music. >
Yes, practical musicians who work in both venues know this (both from doing the job, and from reading Quantz and other 18th century sources that make such a distinction). We don't need to be hit over the head with it, as if we didn't.

There is also a huge range of expression that is appropriate within "church style", and it's not really the place of non-musicians outside the setting of an actual worship service to deliver a bunch of Thou Shalt Not dicta in that regard...for example, for a recording where they're not the musician or the producer. Same thing Marshall pointed out: is the factual constellation intentional (as to the actual content of a piece of music, including its improvisational and aesthetic range of what's acceptable), or is it merely accidental (e.g., any such restrictions/wishes handed down by rigid people who can't stand certain things themselves)? Even if we could somehow recreate a Leipzig church service down to the smallest detail, today, who gets to say what is disallowed in the expression for today's audience/congregation? The people who consider themselves the most pious/spiritual (which might be accompanied by the most rigid restrictiveness, lest anything disturb them)? The people who consider themselves the most objective historians? The musicians whose responsibility it is to do something appropriate, making the best of a difficult situation where every listener expects something different from every other?

Alain Bruguieres wrote (March 29, 2006):
< "Imagine" if frogs had wings, like some jumping insects do; they wouldn't bump their tushes so hard when they try a too-adventurous leap.
I suppose I should clarify my remark about amphibians that are an entirely different species. >
[To Bradley Lehman] Thank you for the clarification. I was beginning to suspect a plot to starve the french nation by means of a genetic modification of frogs which would enable them to jump so efficiently that any attempt to cach one ot those new-fangled amphibians would end up in one lamentably 'bumping one's tushes'. I am relieved to lean that what you had in mind was only bumping one's hips. At least we will retain our dignity while we die of starvation.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 30, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Here's another quote I like, this time from Robert Marshall in a review written 1973: "...unanimity on
even the 'objective' criteria for judging a conscientious, that is, historically minded, performance of older music will never readily be attained. (...) <<

And with this statement back in 1973, Marshall opened the sluice gate for all types of performances which do not belong in an 'authentic' (as close as we can hope to achieve such a performance) performance of Bach's sacred music.

>>There is also a huge range of expression that is appropriate within "church style"...." <<
Here you can see the results of the open sluice gate flooding the land with 'just about anything goes' and 'let's do so that we can attract and capture the attention of an audience' [the typical American church-goers who have an entirely different cultural mind-set and ears accustomed to hearing bands come in and play their Sunday-morning gigs using music which is entirely un-Bachian].

>>Even if we could somehow recreate a Leipzig church service down to the smallest detail, today, who gets to say what is disallowed in the expression for today's audience/congregation?<<
I still believe that McCreesh is on the right track here as he attempts to recreate the entire atmosphere of a church service right down to the smallest detail. The congregation in Roskilde (obviously not with the cultural bias of Americans) became a real part of the service. They were uplifted by such an experience and were not played down to the baser musical expectations of a congregation that might otherwise be exposed to very different musical sounds (faster, more rhythmic performances with the beat being punched into you by electonic instruments) outside of the church service. McCreesh's recording of the Epiphany Service on Archive is a recording I truly treasure. There is a feeling of true interaction on the part of all the participants. Even the tolling of real bells is an integral part of the service.

Meticulous attention to historical details does pay off. Somehow the participants feel this and then they give their best. Simply allowing church musicians today to 'throw something together' as a kind of jam session to entertain the congregation that begins to feel that it is in a kind of nightclub is not what I would call truly uplifting. As far as we know, Bach did not improvise cadenzas on his violino piccolo in the middle of a cantata performance in order to dazzle the congregation. To the best of his abilities in the little time alloted to him in composing and preparing his materials, he nevertheless attempted wherever possible to mark meticulously his scores and parts with the specific embellishments, articulation, dynamics, the duration of notes, etc. which he expected his singers and players to execute.

Bach's critical audience in the congregation consisted in part of university personnel (professors, students) and visitors in Leipzig who were musicians themselves or who brought with them a good knowledge of music as well as a more cosmopolitan viewpoint. To be sure, Bach had his reputation as a composer and performer to uphold, but he also considered integrating the specific musical talents, gifts, and technical abilities of his performers to make them truly become a worthy part of the church service.

Eric Bergerud wrote (March 30, 2006):
Facts and Discretion (was Quantz quotes, etc)

[To Bradley Lehman] Marshall's point is no small matter because, as I understand it, arguments like his have come from many corners in musicology to critique the ideal that may (or may not) have been held by some of the pioneers of the period performance movement in the 60's. (I say "may not" because I'm not sure that any of these musicians ever thought that the past could be replicated: rather that replication was an ideal. Narrative historians have dealt with this distinction since Ranke. In any case the "perfect replication" becomes a perfect straw man for those wishing to attack the ideal itself. If one can't describe the past "the way it actually was" it's a short step to challenge the idea of historical truth itself. The result is a scholarly swamp that damages inquiry in almost every way.)

I'm less impressed with Marshall's points than Brad. First, although I will be glad to stand correction, I do not see that the heart of the authenticity movement is "primarily a matter not of facts but of discretion." As I recall we've had a running gun battle over what kind of flute Bach used. Is that discretion? How about OVPP squabble: is that over discretion? Did Bach's congregation ever participate in the chorus? Have musicologists arrived at consensus over tempo? Of, if I may be so bold, how did Bach temper his keyboard instruments? If these and many other questions do not deal with "fact" I'm missing something. Nor can I say I'm impressed with Marshall's logic when he states "not all of the known facts may be relevant; and many of them may even contradict one another." There are few facts "relevant" to every scholar but, pleaseforgive for the parse, I think a "fact" is probably of use to someone. Facts that "contradict each other" are either being improperly defined or one is faced with a conflict that has not been resolved and you don't have "facts" at all.

As I have noted on other posts I think it perfectly legitimate to set a goal for replication of past performances for antiquarian reasons alone fully realizing that the goal cannot be reached in its totality. If antiquarian interest is sufficient reason to employ without unnecessary compromise all agreed upon knowledge concerning a performance, I think one is off the hook concerning some of Brad's hypothetical objections. If we could indeed reproduce a Leipzig service "down to the smallest detail" why not simply do it and say: "just wanted to hear what Bach's parishioners heard, that's all. No offense meant."

Here is where discretion comes into the mix. If authenticity is impossible or even undesirable (the two notions don't sit well together well, do they?) then the artist is free to become the musical equivalent of a "Cafeteria Catholic", picking the "authentic" bits that fit what is wanted for a beautiful performance and ignoring anything that can get in the way. Discretion don't you know? In the real world I have no problem at all with this arrangement. Actually it suits my taste very nicely because the staggering depth of Bach's music begs for the widest possible artistic latitude. The only problem that I do see is that by assuring all concerned that authenticity is impossible to achieve, people will cease the attempt entirely. Perhaps that wouldn't matter to the artistic community. It would be a sad day for die hard antiquarians.

I wish artists involved in the period instrument performances could somewhere talk shop with the aviation loonies that pay the handsome sum needed to construct replicas of World War I fighter aircraft. (I do not believe any of the handful of real flying WWI aircraft are in private hands.) By and large these gents are performers in a way because they are a beloved fixture at many great airshows. But for the most part they are antiquarians. In any meaningful sense a World War I fighter is lousy airplane. But if one wants to know what it was like to fight the Baron, you gotta build your own Camel, and some people do. The designers and builders have done wondrous work in reclaiming details of past plans, but still argue fiercely over how some aspects of construction or construction techniques. There are even fiercer debates over how many structural improvements over past practices should be pursued without ruining the whole intent of the enterprise. The law, common sense and families collude to prevent a genuine reproduction because the real articles were too dangerous even without bullets flying around. (And not many pilots would want their Camel to have a real rotary unless they enjoy the taste of castor oil. Nor would they probably want the vicious torque that made the Camel so maneuverable, at least with a 110hp engine.) But if the planes are too strong or their engines too powerful their performance characteristics would grow ever further from the real article. In general the most serious (and richest) members of the fraternity try to stick closest to Great War specs. An odd logic develops. "My plane is better than your plane because it isn't as good." I'm glad the guys think that way. Not only have these nuts added invaluable information to the analysis of wartime operations, they provide a vivid picture of aviation's past. Of course the post-modernists haven't gotten around to criticize the field.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 30, 2006):
Eric Bergerud writes:
< I wish artists involved in the period instrument performances could somewhere talk shop with the aviation loonies that pay the handsome sum needed to construct replicas of World War I fighter aircraft. (I do not believe any of the handful of real flying WWI aircraft are in private hands.) By and large these gents are performers in a way because they are a beloved fixture at many great airshows. But for the most part they are antiquarians. In any meaningful sense a World War I fighter is lousy airplane. But if one wants to know what it was like to fight the Baron, you gotta build your own Camel, and some people do. The designers and builders have done wondrous work in reclaiming details of past plans, but still argue fiercely over how some aspects of construction or construction techniques. There are even fiercer debates over how many structural improvements over past practices should be pursued without ruining the whole intent of the enterprise. The law, common sense and families collude to prevent a genuine reproduction because the real articles were too dangerous even without bullets flying around. (And not many pilots would want their Camel to have a real rotary unless they enjoy the taste of castor oil. Nor would they probably want the vicious torque that made the Camel so maneuverable, at least with a 110hp engine.) But if the planes are too strong or their engines too powerful their performance characteristics would grow ever further from the real article. In general the most serious (and richest) members of the fraternity try to stick closest to Great War specs. An odd logic develops. "My plane is better than your plane because it isn't as good." I'm glad the guys think that way. Not only have these nuts added invaluable information to the analysis of wartime operations, they provide a vivid picture of aviation's past. >
As a holder and regular user of a private pilot's licence (though not a 'loonie' owner of a WW1 relic) I really enjoyed this analogy which makes some good points about the illumination of past events and creations.

One small caveat if I may, though. People sometimes deduce (wrongly) from analogies of the arts with technological advances that art 'develops' and 'improves' as does technological design (I know you were not saying this, Eric). Just as the C19 saddled us with a lot of romantic notions about Bach and the C18 which we are still trying to throw off, the C20 has saddled us with this sort of notion of improvement through development. This doesn't work for the arts of course, except perhaps in the design of concert halls or instruments. It doesn't work for composition where 'development' may lead to new forms of expression, but they are not improvements. Instruments also, might improve rechnically but still not be as well fitted to the music as the ones it was originally conceived for.

What does make one think, from your comparison is the nice notion of the 'odd logic' wherein (by analogy) a performance of early music on old instruments is 'better' because it is more badly performed as (some believe, wrongly I think) might have been the case in Bach's day.

This is a real can of worms and gets to the heart of the 'authenticity' issue. I await the sparks!!

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 30, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Marshall's point is no small matter because, as I understand it, arguments like his have come from many corners in musicology to critique the ideal that may (or may not) have been held by some of the pioneers of the period performance movement in the 60's. (I say "may not" because I'm not sure that any of these musicians ever thought that the past could be replicated: rather that replication was an ideal. Narrative historians have dealt with this distinction since Ranke. In any case the "perfect replication" becomes a perfect straw man for those wishing to attack the ideal itself. If one can't describe the past "the way it actually was" it's a short step to challenge the idea of historical truth itself. The result is a scholarly swamp that damages inquiry in almost every way.) >
Yes; but it doesn't have to be a scholarly swamp. More like a minefield explored by Richard Taruskin, Laurence Dreyfus, Gary Tomlinson, Joseph Kerman, John Butt, Peter Kivy, et al on the philosophical side of authenticity-inquiry....

I like these two especially:
http://www.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521013585
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/KERCON.html

< I'm less impressed with Marshall's points than Brad. First, although I will be glad to stand correction, I do not see that the heart of the authenticity movement is "primarily a matter not of facts but of discretion." As I recall we've had a running gun battle over what kind of flute Bach used. Is that discretion? How about OVPP squabble: is that over discretion? Did Bach's congregation ever participate in the chorus? Have musicologists arrived at consensus over tempo? Of, if I may be so bold, how did Bach temper his keyboard instruments? If these and many other questions do not deal with "fact" I'm missing something. Nor can I say I'm impressed with Marshall's logic when he states "not all of the known facts may be relevant; and many of them may even contradict one another." There are few facts "relevant" to every scholar but, please forgive for the parse, I think a "fact" is probably of use to someone. Facts that "contradict each other" are either being improperly defined or one is faced with a conflict that has not been resolved and you don't have "facts" at all. >
A good point: "facts" are easily confusable with "general principles" that get invoked over lacunae of facts.

< As I have noted on other posts I think it perfectly legitimate to set a goal for replication of past performances for antiquarian reasons alone fully realizing that the goal cannot be reached in its totality. If antiquarian interest is sufficient reason to employ without unnecessary compromise all agreed upon knowledge concerning a performance, I think one is off the hook concerning some of Brad's hypothetical objections. If we could indeed reproduce a Leipzig service "down to the smallest detail" why not simply do it and say: "just wanted to hear what Bach's parishioners heard, that's all. No offense meant." >
Agreed...as long there is also the understanding that not all "HIP musicianship" is necessarily (or even primarily) antiquarian in thrust. Some of us strive for such principles of performance practice, foremost, because we believe the music simply sounds better and clearer and more convincing that way...more beautiful, more expressive, more direct in communication...and not to be antiquarians or to serve anyone (primarily) who is.

That is, we sometimes get held to niggling and arbitrary antiquarian standards, even if that wasn't any substantial part of the goal in our musicianship or published recordings.

< Here is where discretion comes into the mix. If authenticity is impossible or even undesirable (the two notions don't sit well together well, do they?) then the artist is free to become the musical equivalent of a "Cafeteria Catholic", picking the "authentic" bits that fit what is wanted for a beautiful performance and ignoring anything that can get in the way. Discretion don't you know? In the real world I have no problem at all with this arrangement. Actually it suits my taste very nicely because the staggering depth of Bach's music begs for the widest possible artistic latitude. The only problem that I do see is that by assuring all concerned that authenticity is impossible to achieve, people will cease the attempt entirely. Perhaps that wouldn't matter to the artistic community. It would be a sad day for die hard antiquarians. >
Such reasons are, in part, why university programs of music performance (at the doctoral level, at least) require the student to grapple with such issues of philosophy and aesthetics.

So we're not just a bunch of trained birds with generic techniques, and then doing whatever we please...even if we get accused of such, by people who don't know, or by people who believe their own listening/intellectual priorities are necessarily identical to ours...or necessarily identical to "Bach's intentions!"

< I wish artists involved in the period instrument performances could somewhere talk shop with the aviation loonies that pay the handsome sum needed to construct replicas of World War I fighter aircraft. (I do not believe any of the handful of real flying WWI aircraft are in private hands.) By and large these gents are performers in a way because they are a beloved fixture at many great airshows. But for the most part they are antiquarians. In any meaningful sense a World War I fighter is lousy airplane. But if one wants to know what it was like to fight the Baron, you gotta build your own Camel, and some people do. The designers and builders have done wondrous work in reclaiming details of past plans, but still argue fiercely over how some aspects of construction or construction techniques. There are even fiercer debates over how many structural improvements over past practices should be pursued without ruining the whole intent of the enterprise. The law, common sense and families collude to prevent a genuine reproduction because the real articles were too dangerous even without bullets flying around. (And not many pilots would want their Camel to have a real rotary unless they enjoy the taste of castor oil. Nor would they probably want the vicious torque that made the Camel so maneuverable, at least with a 110hp engine.) But if the planes are too strong or their engines too powerful their performance characteristics would grow ever further from the real article. In general the most serious (and richest) members of the fraternity try to stick closest to Great War specs. An odd logic develops. "My plane is better than your plane because it isn't as good." I'm glad the guys think that way. Not only have these nuts added invaluable information to the analysis of wartime operations, they provide a vivid picture of aviation's past. Of course the post-modernists haven't gotten around to criticize the field. >
Maybe not in antiquarian aviation, but they have got around to it in music.

As for myself, my own preferences/priorities are not antiquarian ones. I use what I believe to be Bach's own tuning because I feel it makes the music sound much more alive, involving, natural, colorful, and (yes) easier to play/interpret. The music is so gorgeous that it inspires me to sit around for hours playing through it repeatedly, for sensuous enjoyment: for example, the pieces in Ab, B, Bb, F, E majors and F#, G#, G, F minors of WTC book 2. With a limited amount of practice time here and there between other activities, unless I'm preparing some specific gig to a specific deadline, I prefer to play and learn music that curls my toes, like this. And I leave my harpsichord set up in this tuning almost all the time, as a practical matter, because it just sounds so nice for all music and not only Bach's.

Similarly, I buy recordings that I like (on audition or sometimes because I already know the artist's work) because they communicate the music well to me...and anybody else is free to buy something else if they wish. Ditto for concerts. And maybe such a cafeteria plan is intellectually sloppy in some way, but I also want to enjoy
my life: and pick music that will give enjoyment to my family as well. Picking some CD to slap into the car player on a drive, the priority almost always goes to what we enjoy rather than what might be intellectually good for one's scholarly development.

Whatever antiquarians might want, whether it's WW1 airplanes or music: isn't the point to see what's in the original design (under presumably optimal conditions) as clearly as possible? To let the reconstructed object speak for itself if it can, with the assumption that the original design was indeed worthy of both admiration and study? Somebody of my acquaintance collects and restores tractors from the 1940s--real ones, not models--lovingly putting everything back to original condition if possible. And the results are indeed attractive, even though it's perfectly painted and without a spot of dirt...i.e. a tractor not actually doing its appointed job as a functional piece of machinery, but merely a museum piece to admire. I'm more pragmatic than that: if I invest in a machine I want it to do real work for me, and not just sit there looking pretty.

Bradley Lehma wrote (March 31, 2006):
< And with this statement back in 1973, Marshall opened the sluice gate for all types of performances which do not belong in an 'authentic' (as close as we can hope to achieve such a performance) performance of Bach's sacred music.
(...)
Meticulous attention to historical details does pay off. Somehow the participants feel this and then they give their best. >

Guess ye didn't like the part of the Marshall quote ye cut out, then. (And have ye ever read the whole article from which I excerpted it, or are ye reacting with prejudice against it on a small excerpt?) Well, here are those preceding sentences again for good measure and re-emphasis:

"The truly authentic performance of a composition has always been expected to be faithful to all the known hard historical facts pertaining to performance practice at the time the work was written. But we are now wise enough to realize that not all the known facts may be relevant; and many of them may even contradict one another. This touches the heart of the authenticity dispute, which is primarily a matter not of facts but of discretion."

Discretion. Evidence. Faithful commitment. Wisdom. Relevance.

This is not about "anything goes" laissez-faire. It is not about opening sluice gates, to the bewilderment and frustration of record collectors. It is about making practical and aesthetically tasteful sense of sometimes-contradictory evidence.

And, the choices in doing so (yes, always to try to serve the composer's "intentions" with great responsibility!) will not always coincide with the choices made by non-practicing-musicians.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 31, 2006):
Brad Lehman restated Robert Marshall's statement as follows:
"The truly authentic performance of a composition has always been expected to be faithful to all the known hard historical facts pertaining to performance practice at the time the work was written. But we are now wise enough to realize that not all the known facts may be relevant; and many of them may even contradict one another. This touches the heart of the authenticity dispute, which is primarily a matter not of facts but of discretion"

BL: >>Discretion. Evidence. Faithful commitment. Wisdom. Relevance.<<
The first part of Marshall's statement from 1973 is a truism which he repeats here so that he can qualify and 'knock it down' with his own opinion. Then Marshall 'throws in the towel' by indicating that there really is not much need for further Bach scholarship regarding matters of performance practices except as an arid desert land which occasional musicologists will visit in order to dig up some museum-piece artifacts ('factoids' to use Brad's jargon) which rarely, if ever, have any bearing on how Bach's music could be performed authentically. At the same time Marshal appears to be kow-towing to pioneers of the HIP movement at that time: Leonhardt, Harnoncourt, et al. who had already started their quest toward authentic performances and whose performance mannerisms Marshall may not have wanted to call into question by preferring the slogan "some HIP Bach is better than no Bach or Bach played according to 19th and early 20th century principles." Speaking from his high podium in an ivory tower, Marshall begins with "We are now wise enough to realize." And thereby implies that he can presumptuously pronounce a judgment generally held by past and present generations (with Brad Lehman wishing to extend this statement to future generations as well). The observation by Marshall that ".not all the known facts may be relevant." is a truism that need not be belabored here, particularly on the part of anyone engaged in research and seriously seeking the truth of a matter; and ".many of them [facts] may even contradict one another" is a bit of sophomoric philosophy which any researcher will encounter on a daily basis. Marshall seems to forget that there are ways to temporarily resolve such contradictions on the basis of what is most probable and reasonable; and that some other means of resolving apparent contradictions may present themselves in the future.

Marshall's statement: "This touches the heart of the authenticity dispute, which is primarily a matter not of facts but of discretion" seems to be almost a complete abandonment of all the performance practice indications pertaining to Bach's music, unless these indications serve to support theories or practices already in vogue, as postulated by musicological research in the face of actual performances by HIP stars, whose careers, as illustrious as they may have become, have not always been solidly founded and tempered by careful and continuing research focused directly upon Bach's possible performance practices. In essence, these performers have held to outdated theories seriously in need of revision and Marshall seems unwilling to call these into question even when related factual evidence is uncovered. "Discretion" here seems to imply "do not criticize important HIP practitioners regarding the performance practices they have adopted as they currently dictate what is fashionable at the moment. Discretion also means "if possible, locate some musicological historical sources from a time and place not directly pertinent to Bach's situation in Leipzig, sources which will help to establish more firmly the incorrect performance mannerisms already adopted by these practitioners."

While Marshall may honestly not have intended to imply what has been presented here as issuing from his statement; nevertheless, the end effect is that much of what has been indicated by him back then has now come to pass in regard to certain, specific issues which touch directly upon how listeners hear Bach today when performed either explicitly or implicitly as an 'authentic' representation of 'Bach's intended method of performance using instruments based on original instruments and performance practices based upon his time and place in history.'

While I respect Marshall's scholarship in matters pertaining to Bach and his music and have had occasion to study and use the results of his excellent research, it is my personal observation that the above statement represents an aberration in that it overstates the role of the historically-informed practitioner and has thus negligently caused certain performance mannerisms that should properly have been 'nipped in the bud' become so entrenched that serious musicology has rather followed along with unfounded mannerisms rather than revealing the counter-evidence or the misinterpretation of original sources which does exist.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 31, 2006):
< Then Marshall 'throws in the towel' by indicating that there really is not much need for further Bach scholarship regarding matters of performance practices except as an arid desert land which occasional musicologists will visit in order to dig up some museum-piece artifacts ('factoids' to use Brad's jargon) which rarely, if ever, have any bearing on how Bach's music could be performed authentically. >
Marshall doesn't say anything like any of that, much less throwing any towels.

< At the same time Marshal appears to be kow-towing to pioneers of the HIP movement at that time: Leonhardt, Harnoncourt, et al. who had already started their quest toward authentic performances and whose performance mannerisms Marshall may not have wanted to call into question by preferring the slogan "some HIP Bach is better than no Bach or Bach played according to 19th and early 20th century principles." >
Well, this is absurd. Obviously you haven't even bothered to read Marshall's article, before presuming to criticize it or to guess what Marshall is writing about. His article itself is a review of Bach cantatas 1-8, specifically the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt recording: two boxed sets of LPs!

It's this article: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach2.pl?22=19543
...within this book: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach3.pl?4=[ce]Marshall&5=&7=1989&9=b

Julian Mincham wro(March 31, 2006):
Thomas Braatz writes:
<<it is my personal observation that the above statement represents an aberration in that it overstates the role of the historically-informed practitioner and has thus negligently caused certain performance mannerisms that should properly have been 'nipped in the bud' become so entrenched ---------->>
It may be that you have done this before I joined the group. However I, and I suspect others on the list would be interested if you gave some concrete examples of the sort of mannerisms you refer to here.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 31, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>His [Marshall's] article itself is a review of Bach cantatas 1-8, specifically the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt recording: two boxed sets of LPs!<<
It appears then that Marshall might have wanted to quell in advance any criticism that would be forthcoming from musicologists who disagreed with the mannerisms that were just beginning to appear in their almost undetectable incipient stages in these early recordings. By giving his imprimatur to the entire project (noble as this cause might have seemed at the time), Marshall, in a sense, without realizing the later excesses on the part of the conductors that would ensue, had given his protection against criticism by others for the entire project. Relinquishing the right of musicologists to render justified criticisms, Marshall had turned over the decision-making powers to the performers who now felt no compunction in pursuing their own goals which were not always solidly grounded on historical sources nor were they based upon a truly accurate and unbiased
interpretation of the results of on-going research.

Stephen Benson wrote (April 1, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Relinquishing the right of musicologists to render justified criticisms, Marshall had turned over the decision-making powers to the performers who now felt no compunction in pursuing their own goals which were not always solidly grounded on historical sources nor were they based upon a truly accurate and unbiased > interpretation of the results of on-going research. >
I know. I know. Only your interpretations are "truly accurate and unbiased".

BWV846-893 wrote (April 1, 2006):
[To Stephen Benson] Surely no one has spilled more ink (or depressed more keys) railing against HIP performers and recordings.

Why all the verbosity to express one's musical aesthetics? How about something more straightforward like, "I hate HIP." Or better yet, "My musical tastes are most unHIP."

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 1, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
>>It may be that you have done this before I joined the group. However I, and I suspect others on the list would be interested if you gave some concrete examples of the sort of mannerisms you refer to here.<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< here are a few important characteristics (excessive mannerisms) that come to mind (all the details of the discussions can be found in various places on Aryeh Oron's Bach-Cantatas-Website (BCW) using the search facility) >
Yes, indeed. I find both the question and response of interest.

 

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