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Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 18

Continue from Part 17

Performance practice [was: BWV 26]

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 26 - Discussions Part 2

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 17, 2006):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< Well thanks for that vote of confidence in the experience of an amateur singer ( and one singing in a group).
Taking the movement (the Tenor Aria, no 2)
<snip > it is a swirl of busyness. The voice has passages of 20 bars or more without a break; it's not just the middle section, it's all demanding! And if you're busy racing for the next sequence of notes, you haven't time to enjoy it. That's generally true of all demanding music, don't you think? >
Even before Russell's post, I thought this T aria (BWV 26/2) was an excellent example to demonstrate the need for preparation and rehearsal in Bach's music. I let the idea pass, no need to draw Russell (or myself) into other people's disputes. On the other hand, we should be able to have a civil discussion over differences of opinion.

I decided to raise the issue, after I noticed earlier today, while looking for something else, the following comment by Wolff (Bach: The Learned Musician, p. 345):

<[Bach] was weary of asking his musicians to play for very little or nothing, and that these musicians were forced by circumstances to accept money-making engagements for weddings and other private events rather
than take the time to practice and rehearse Bach's challenging works.
<end quote>

I would urge interested people to read this comment in context. It certainly appears to be Wolff's opinion that it what was Bach's ideal to have adequate time for preparation, and by implication, that the music was available if the musicians were not otherwise occupied.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>I decided to raise the issue, after I noticed earlier today, while looking for something else, the following comment by Wolff (Bach: The Learned Musician, p. 345):
"[Bach] was weary of asking his musicians to play for very little or nothing, and that these musicians were forced by circumstances to accept money-making engagements for weddings and other private events rather than take the time to practice and rehearse Bach's challenging works."
I would urge interested people to read this comment in context. It certainly appears to be Wolff's opinion that it what was Bach's ideal to have adequate time for preparation, and by implication, that the music was available if the musicians were not otherwise occupied.<<
There are two sections in the Entwurff (1730) which may seem to imply some of these things:

1. "taking time to practice and rehearse Bach's challenging works"

Nothing in the Entwurff directly states this. It does indicate that the music performed under Bach's direction (figural - first choir) is more difficult because of changing musical styles and tastes. This implies that Bach's music is included. But where are the words "üben" and "proben"? They are nowhere to be found.

Bach is pleading for:

more monies for the university students who are involved in church performances on a regular basis "Who wants to work for nothing, or provide services for nothing?"

with a steady income (as small as that may be), such talented university students will find more time to become 'Virtuosi' in playing a single instrument or in cultivating and training the voice they have. Under the present conditions of decaying support, it is strange then to expect these German musicians (university students,not referring to the Thomaner boys) to play all kinds of music from foreign countries at sight [this is what Bach's university students have been doing all the time - this is what Bach has expected of them, but he is afraid he lose what he has had all along]. Compare this with those 'Virtuosi' who are well paid (at the Dresden Court) and have ample time to study the music for a long time until they practically can sing it from memory [this is not the case with Bach's musicians until 1730 as they can sing and play well at sight to Bach's satisfaction - however, he is worried that the deteriorating situation with the university student performers might begin to influence his performances although until the present date they have not.]

Monies granted by the City Council for this purpose would allow each university student performer to perfect his art on only one instrument or one voice, rather than forcing them to play various instruments and perhaps sing a solo part as well. Receiving money for performing would ensure that they would not have to worry about where their next meals are coming from and would give them more time to concentrate on becoming true 'Virtuosi' who can perform excellently anything set before them on short order. This is, according to Bach, what will improve the conditions surrounding figural music performances in the Leipzig churches.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 17, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Compare this with those 'Virtuosi' who are well paid (at the Dresden Court) and have ample time to study the music for a long time until they practically can sing it from memory [this is not the case with Bach's musicians until 1730 as they can sing and play well at sight to Bach's satisfaction - however, he is worried that the deteriorating situation with the university student performers might begin to influence his performances although until the present date they have not.] >
The recruitment, scheduling and payment of professional musician was the constant concern of musicians in Bach's position. Luring the best musicians to perform means money. As has always been the case, students, especially the good ones, will go wherever and sing whatever and for whomever pays them the best. Some of them will even break verbal agreements if something better turns up. Opera singers still maintain this fine old tradition today.

The entire thrust of Bach's communications with the Council is focussed on the necessity of having stability and consistency of personnel --- and not just competent personnel but exceptional artists. Bach could not have contemplated writing a work such as the SMP without the knowledge that it would be well performed. I have never believed that Bach would have tolerated mediocre performances of his music. He recruited the best
musicians who could perform at a high level within a tight rehearsal schedule.

This notion that Thomas constantly presents of Bach's musicians not requiring rehearsals and performing his music at sight is simply not supported by the records. One comment about a candidate's sight-singing ability does not create a norm. Common sense tells us that Bach had a minutely-organized rehearsal process in place which ran without crisis. The fact that there are no accounts of Bach's musicians screwing up the music -- and there are plenty accounts from the 18th century! -- tell us that the bureaucracy of music production was well-maintained.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>The entire thrust of Bach's communications with the Council is focussed on the necessity of having stability and consistency of personnel --- and not just competent personnel but exceptional artists.<<
This is true and these exceptional artists could sight-read music in such a way that at the first and final rehearsal which was during a church service Saturday afternoon the process of 'ironing out' mechanical problems would hardly be noticeable to those attending the 'prayer' service. Remember that most of the original cantata parts show little, if anything at all, in the way of the usual 'wear and tear' that might happen if these parts were marked during the only rehearsal or even taken home for study with some possible fingerings appearing here and there or some figures in the continuo being changed by a player.

DC: >>Bach could not have contemplated writing a work such as the SMP without the knowledge that it would be well performed.<<
When some church official complaabout a certain aspect of the upcoming performance of a Passion, Bach simply decided that all the effort, including the bureaucracy was not worth it. He indicated to the authorities (March 17, 1739) that the performance of the Passion was after all nothing but a great burden ("Onus") for him. Earlier, in 1724, Bach also ran into trouble with the authorities by failing to schedule the performances properly. So much for 'planning far in advance'! The authorities were concerned that they had not approved in advance the text to be used and also when the printed announcements/booklets(?) appeared in print shortly before the performance announcing the performance in the wrong church (by tradition the venue would keep switching between St. Nicholas and St. Thomas Churches), Bach had to have new text booklets published at his own cost with the correct church and time indicated. This demonstrates to me that Bach was much more concerned about finishing composing the score and having the parts copied in time so that he forgot about asking someone what the traditional venue for the Passion should be. He was so distracted by his other more important activities as a composer working up to the last minute that he incurred additional, unnecessary expenses that he could easily do without.

DC: >>I have never believed that Bach would have tolerated mediocre performances of his music. He recruited the best musicians who could perform at a high level within a tight rehearsal schedule.<<
"The tight rehearsal schedule" being the usual only cantata rehearsal that took place on Saturday afternoon during a church prayer service before the actual Sunday performance(s).

DC: >>This notion that Thomas constantly presents of Bach's musicians not requiring rehearsals and performing his music at sight is simply not supported by the records.<<
Please read all my former comments on this issue carefully. There you will find, more often than not, that I have frequently tried to include mention of the Saturday afternoon rehearsals of the cantata which was to be performed the following day. Please show me where in the messages that I have sent to the BCML that I have ever stated that a sight-reading ability of Bach's performers obviated the need for any rehearsal at all.

DC: >>One comment about a candidate's sight-singing ability does not create a norm.<<
It is, howver, one clear indication that Bach could rely upon his best performers in this regard.

DC: >>The fact that there are no accounts of Bach's musicians screwing up the music -- and there are plenty accounts from the 18th century! -- tell us that the bureaucracy of music production was well-maintained.<<
by Bach privately attracting the best university student musicians. Consider the pool from which he was potentially drawing his 'Virtuosi': only a decade or two earlier there were student performers 'out there' by the name of Telemann, Heinichen, Graupner, Fasch, Melchior Hoffmann, etc. who would help Kuhnau perform his cantatas in church.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 17, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<< this is not the case with Bach's musicians until 1730 as they can sing and play well at sight to Bach's satisfaction >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< This notion that Thomas constantly presents of Bach's musicians not requiring rehearsals and performing his music at sight is simply not supported by the records. One comment about a candidate's sight-singing ability does not create a norm. Common sense tells us that Bach had a minutely-organized rehearsal process in place which ran without crisis. The fact that there are no accounts of Bach's musicians screwing up the music -- and there are plenty accounts from the 18th century! -- tell us that the bureaucracy of music production was well-maintained. >
By coincidence, the brief quest which inspired (?) me to reopen this controversial thread was for an 18th C. account of Bach's musicians screwing up the music. I recall noticing in passing earlier this year, an account attributed to a Thomanerchor alumnus, recorded later in his life, that the early Leipzig performances were often ragged as the result of lack of preparation. I apologize that I am unable to recover the reference, but in any case it would be a single source, and hearsay at that.

The idea does suggest that there is a middle ground, consistent with Bach's statements and pleas for resources which would promote additional opportunity for preparation. The rehearsal process did not always run without crisis, but when it did not, the performance did not usually run without crisis either. Same as it ever was.

Have the 18th C. accounts been collected or summarized anywhere?

In the course of trying to recover the reference, I had a look through BCW Topics/Performance Practice/Perfection, precision. The reference I recall is not there, but lots of interesting stuff is.

Julian Mincham wrote (November 17, 2006):
Personally I find Thomas's arguments quite compelling in the matter of performances. The sight reading issue seema bit of a red herring except that (in my experience) excellent sight readers are usually able to master, and perform, a greater repertoire more quickly than poor readers.

But the fact remains that in his early years at Leipzig and enormous amount of new and challenging music was performed with what must have been with limited rehearsals. The evidence available would indicate that this music was encompassed and performed within a very short period of time. Doug Cowling presents the view that Bach would not have been satisfied with continual substandard performance; I agree--the consumately professional musician, if the music he gave his musicians was totally impractical to perform well he would have adapted it accordingly--he was no ivory towered romantic sitting composing in his garrett thinking great thoughts!

I think it is encumbant upon those who don't agree with Thomas's well argued theories to try to explain how so much new difficult music was performed, apparently adequately, in such short times.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 17, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< This is true and these exceptional artists could sight-read music in such a way that at the first and final rehearsal which was during a church service Saturday afternoon the process of 'ironing out' mechanical problems would hardly be noticeable to those attending the 'prayer' service. >
Show us the documentation that a public service was ever used as rehearsal. The two are mutually exclusive functions.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>Have the 18th C. accounts been collected or summarized anywhere?<<
The Bach-Dokumente Volumes 1-4 have collected all sources with reference to Bach and his music before 1800. Perhaps justifiably so, Forkel, for instance, no longer makes the grade. After 50 years, Forkel in maintaining (without being able to quote directly) that someone, perhaps even CPE Bach had said something to him personally or in a letter about J. S. Bach, but now Forkel can only rely on his memory, makes such reports become less and less credible.

There is no search function for the Bach-Dokumente. This is why any hint as to who said it or when would be extremely helpful in aiding the search. If it happened to be a Thomaner, the list is narrowed down considerably, but if the Thomaner, who attended the Thomasschule after 1750 is recollecting what he had heard based upon hearsay, the credibility of such a source is undermined considerably.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 17, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>Show us the documentation that a public service was ever used as rehearsal. The two are mutually exclusive functions.<<
Not if the rehearsal was practically as good as a performance to begin with and that it would be a rare rehearsal indeed when everything would have to come to a crashing halt.

I do not have this reference at my fingertips although I do remember reading that this Saturday afternoon service was primarily a 'prayer' service attended primarily by few women (old women, servants who could not attend (or were allowed? to attend) the regular Sunday services when the cantatas were performed.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 17, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] No professional musician in the entire history of music has ever treated a public liturgy as a rehearsal. That's like saying that the morning cantata in St. Thomas' was a warmup for the afternoon performance in St. Nicholas'. Bach would have been fired for dereliction of duties to abuse public worship in that way. Bach always gave his best "even" to old ladies and servants.

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 17, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>Have the 18th C. accounts been collected or summarized anywhere?<<
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The Bach-Dokumente Volumes 1-4 have collected all sources with reference to Bach and his music before 1800. Perhaps justifiably so, Forkel, for instance, no longer makes the grade. After 50 years, Forkel in maintaining (without being able to quote directly) that someone, perhaps even CPE Bach had said something to him personally or in a letter about J. S. Bach, but now Forkel can only rely on his memory, makes such reports become less and less credible.
There is no search function for the Bach-Dokumente. This is why any hint as to who said it or when would be extremely helpful in aiding the search. If it happened to be a Thomaner, the list is narrowed down considerably, >
My recollection is that it was a Thomaner, from the early Leipzig years, but passing along his recollections later in life. I thought the two most likely sources were either Bach Reader (including Forkel) or Wolff, but I do not see it in either. It does sound suspiciously like a comment relayed by Forkel. Sorry I can't be more accurate; if I run across anything I will pass it along.

Rick Canyon wrote (November 18, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Personally I find Thomas's arguments quite compelling in the matter of performances. The sight reading issue seema bit of a red herring except that (in my experience) excellent sight readers are usually able to master, and perform, a greater repertoire more quickly than poor readers.
But the fact remains that in his early years at
Leipzig and enormous amount of new and challenging music was performed with what must have been with limited rehearsals. The evidence available would indicate that this music was encompassed and performed within a very short period of time. Doug Cowling presents the view that Bach would not have been satisfied with continual substandard performance; I agree--the consumately professional musician, if the music he gave his musicians was totally impractical to perform well he would have adapted it accordingly--he was no ivory towered romantic sitting composing in his garrett thinking great thoughts! >
Perhaps we could look to the British orchestras for a model regarding Bach and sight-reading. Andre Previn, in his book "Ortchestra" (a compilation of interviews with orchestral musicians) makes this statement about sightreading:
"I mentioned before that the sight-reading abilities of the English orchestras are phenomenal. This is due, to a large extent, to the fact that their musical life is made so frenetic. Rehearsals are by necessity not leisurely, and the English player has had to learn to cope with the most fiendish playing problems in the shortest possible time. Most American orchestras like to rehearse every detail, every nuance, carefully and repeatedly, until the requirements are fixed and safe. London orchestras often have to rehearse without stopping, rather like marathon runners drinking a cup of water while running. I have often requested certain changes in the playing and gone right on conducting. These changes are then either marked, or simply remembered, but rarely rehearsed to the fullest. Then comes the concert, and almost without exception, everything is in its place and beautifully played. Even after all these years I am still amazed and full of admiration for this peculiar talent of the musicians."

Previn goes on to state that the best sight-reading musicians were the members of orchestras contracted to Hollywood film studios (tho he refers to the music as "fifth-rate").

A possible downside to sight-reading is noted by bassist Robin McGee of his work with the Royal Philharmonic (same book):

"But to be on the Festival Hall platform, sight-reading the Bartok "Concerto for Orchestra" and Berlioz' "Fantastic Symphony", as I actually did, put me off those pieces for years. It was such a shattering effort trying to stay aboard."

Another advantage that non-sight-reading orchestras like those in North America have is that their programs are announced months, if not years, in advance. Musicians then can practice well in advance and allow their efforts to "season", so that by the time of the performance, they are ready to go.

 

Being realistic about performing lots of music

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 13, 2007):
Yesterday at 3:38 we were granted the following dispensation:

"Let's be a little realistic here! On Tuesday, Bach and his musicians had just completed a marathon race to perform a new cantata, BWV 1, on the preceding Sunday (Palm Sunday), a version of a Passion on Good Friday lasting a few hours, the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) in its initial version performed for the first time on Easter Sunday, a first performance of a new cantata BWV 6 on Easter Monday, a first performance of BWV 4 (the first time for this group of musicians in Leipzig) on Easter Tuesday with the final performance of this probably taking place in the early afternoon of Easter Tuesday."

And then at 7:15 the same material was now spun in this way, from the same source:

"Bach's musicians were able to 'do their jobs' and interpret the music while sight-reading it without first having to spent 'sufficient time to learn the music.' Just contemplate how much 'practice' they had in sight-reading all of Bach's music (all of it new to them) from Palm Sunday through Easter Tuesday!"

I'm wondering what happened between 3:38 and 7:15 yesterday (less than four hours!), such that Bach's superhuman troupe of performers -- merely "performing" the music -- got transformed into a superduperhuman group: the word "perform" getting changed in two places into "sight-reading", which is a more difficult task yet.

Having contemplated the required tasks, and thinking like a practical church musician: I'm also wondering about the reasonable possibility that Bach deployed different performers into these many different gigs during Easter week. These four singers do the Palm Sunday gig, another four singers do the Passion, another four do the Easter O on Sunday, another four do the Monday service, and another four do the Tuesday -- since it's all different music. Maybe some of the orchestral players doubled up into two or more of these gigs, or maybe not; but the singing forces would have been mostly different per day and per piece. That's an awfully good practical reason to need the "four usable singers per voice part" available to Bach, as he was to petition several years later (in the "Entwurff") that he needed: to cover all the assignments.

Within such a model, the allegedly hectic Easter week of five different pieces starts to look more do-able. Each singer would need to learn only one (or at most two or three) major piece, and maybe spot a movement or two into some other piece as an understudy; spending the whole week or maybe the several preceding weeks getting ready for these assigned tasks. To learn the music they could work with their own little sub-groups of keyboardists and other instrumentalists, however the schedule fit into their other schoolwork and responsibilities. With enough of the musicians decently prepared ahead, there needn't have been more than one or two dress rehearsals of each piece straight through (all the movements in sequence)...at the school or wherever, even at Bach's house, not necessarily at the church. Bach his prefects could supervise the various learning processes during those weeks. If all the tasks are planned out well and assigned appropriately, this should work.

Our local professional Shakespeare troupe maintains several different full-length plays in their repertoire, all at once. And they do them both at home and on tour, with different plays on succeeding nights. They accomplish this by deploying the roles so the same actors don't have the leads in different plays; an actor who has a huge role on a Monday will have only a couple of bit parts on Tuesday. They have different directors per play, too. The whole thing is a well-organized rotation so the entire troupe can do the appointed work without burning out. Plus, their full-time schedule of employment includes rehearsals, not only showing up for the shows.

A good relay team can do a mile faster and with less strain than a single runner can do a mile.

Paul T. McCain wrote (April 13, 2007):
Reading all this sniping back and forth on the same old questions of practice times, between the same old folks who seem to indulge their fascination with these ultimately unanswerable questions, I am moved to summarize my reaction to the whole tired squabble with two words:

Who cares?!

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 14, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] Somehow Bach's ensemble premiered five large new pieces within ten days, around Easter that year. That seems important, or at least somewhat interesting.

Did you actually read all the way through the working model I suggested, by which they might have done so by having different singers altogether work on different pieces? Or did you glaze over and quit reading at just the several paragraphs above that, thinking it was just somebody's same old squabble?

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 14, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] On the assumption that this is not a rhetorical question, I will attempt an answer.

(1) A priori, the folks who write the posts care.

(2) Less directly, but still available from on-list posts, many performing musicians care very much. There are technical issues of interest. More important are the emotional implications, as to who has the best sight reading skills, and why.

(3) I for one do not fall in either of those two categories, but I am interested. Understanding Bach's performance constraints, and the relation to his composition practices, helps me appreciate the creative miracle of his music.

Of course, so does Orthodox Lutheran Theology. But if you think about which has the most relevance to life in the 21st C., my answer would be 'music performance practice'. Others might answer differently?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 14, 2007):
At 04:12 PM 4/13/2007, Paul T. McCain wrote:
[To Paul T. McCain] Just think, if you wrote that in Spanish, you would have to (1) begin with both punctuation marks and (2) put them upside down and backwards (for the one to which that applies). Isn't it wonderful that God wrote only in German?!

Harry W. Crosby wrote (April 14, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Isn't it wonderful that God wrote only in German?!

Yeah, those dumb Spaniards devised a unique method whereby the reader is burdened by knowing, as a sentence starts, if it is a question or an exclamation.

This retarded practice is particularly burdensome when one reads aloud, since it spoils all the humor of those "Oops!" mid- to late- sentence inflections that are required when the punctuation is discovered well into the thought.

 

Performaning in the 18th century according to Rifkin

Alain Bruguieres wrote (May 17, 2007):
I submit to your attention the following quotation from Rifkin's interview by Bernard Sherman which I found here : http://www.bsherman.org/rifkin.html

Josua Rifkin quoth:

It's pretty obvious and well known that "interpretation," as we have inherited this idea in the performance of standard repertory in the twentieth century, was foreign to most earlier music making [1]. <http://www.bsherman.org/rifkin.html#1> I think it was Nicholas Kenyon who said that, by all the evidence we have, music making in the eighteenth century was more like what we would call "readings" than what we would call "interpretations." Except for operas, we know that they were lucky to have two rehearsals of a piece, or even one, and a rehearsal basically meant a read-through. When I try to imagine how this all went, I think of the jingle session—a modern situation in which musicians come in to a performing space of some sort, are handed a newly
written piece of music, read it once or twice through, play it more or less flawlessly with a sense of its basic stylistic assumptions, and then go home. Of course, this notion is quite distant from the way we think of performing the great masterpieces, which we imagine to require much more profound insight born out of years of reflection.

This much is easy and obvious enough, I think, but there are aspects that are less easy and obvious. To get at these I would refer to an experience I had a couple of months ago, when I recorded several of the
"London" Symphonies of Haydn [2] <http://www.bsherman.org/rifkin.html#2>. I was dealing with an extremely
good period-instrument orchestra, very experienced, technically very capable; yet we all found this music exceedingly difficult. I myself had underestimated its difficulty, not simply in terms of the individual parts (particularly the violin parts) but also in terms of the ensemble demands and even the directorial demands that they posed. In the course of the sessions the producer and I had a conversation which led to some further thought. He asked, "What must this have sounded like in London at its first performance? Given the lack of rehearsal, what kind of effect could it have made?" In fact, by all evidence, it made an absolutely stunning effect, and people just loved it. The reviews were enthusiastic beyond measure.

Interesting, is it not?

 

Bach in the Dark

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 27, 2007):
I've participated in many Bach performances, but last night was surely the most unusual.

The Tallis Choir of Toronto had a concert of all six Bach motets, a very challenging program for the singers. We had sung "Lobet den Herrn", "Fürchte dich Nicht" and were halfway through "Jesu Meine Freude" when the power went off and we plunged into darkness. In quite a spectacular moment, the choiir sang the last page of the movement from memory and even managed to close together.

Luckily, we were in a Catholic church and, when it became apparent that the outage was going to last a while, we passed out candles and continued by candlelight. At least we get to repeat the performance next weekend.

The real trick was getting the audience out of the darkened church by candlelight.

Jean Laaninen wrote (May 28, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] This is a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

 

Cantata Interpretation and Celebration

Jean Laaninen wrote (June 9, 2007):
For quite a few months during the process of home recording Cantatas BWV 51 and BWV 52 (completed yesterday) I struggled with the recitative continuos and trying to understand figured bass. Although I'd had recitatives in my vocal study, Bach's recitatives in the context of the Cantatas had not yet become my own. The many discussions here have been so helpful.

The recitatives in BWV 51 required being able to give a quality of communication I had not achieved whe I rejoined this group, but I found a needed clue in Brad's writings. Then, BWV 52's recitatives seemed barren to me at first, and I wasn't quite sure what to do. In the end I chose short chords with the organ for support on the first recitative...the text speaks of a false and broken world, to represent that brokenness.

The interpretation of text as I've been learning from the writers on the forum helped to inform the choice, along with Ludwig's comments regarding the use of organ. On the second recitative, the message is of God's faithfulness, and I used the continuo line alone on the organ, but with the sound sustained as I felt that interpretation not only sounded best with my somewhat limited home recording equipment, but also conveyed the message of God's faithfulness best musically.

I liked other approaches, for example the harpsichord on the first recitative, but in the end I finally felt confident about the choices I was making. This also gave rise to my appreciation of what conductors may go through when they make their choices, taking the area of their interpretations out of a more cold and clinical type of theoretical or historical analysis, and bringing it to life personally.

So, I celebrated last night the fact that eight years after hearing the Cantatas for the first time, I finally own two of them vocally. I will sing both daily to stay in shape, but beyond that I came to the realization that if I sing at least the women's parts each week as we go through the cycles--instead of just listening, I will attain a better way of knowing this material than in the past.

I am not quite at the point where I can write meaningful interpretations like Julian and Peter do, if ever--despite a lot of years in music and theological training...but, now I will have time having climbed this musical mountain to sing parts each week that will draw me into the material better following Julian's commentary. I guess we each find our own unique way of approaching how to experience these works and from that maybe have a bit to share with the group that counts. Believe it or not, I have learned a great deal about how I want to sing these works from hearing what people say they hear as they listen. This goes to show how important the words are, and how great the value of the texts in various languages provided by Aryeh on this site. This especially reflects the importance of the listener and not just the performer, composer or theoritst.

I am happy beyond my many words this morning for having reached this point. The journey started eight years ago, but intensively when I began to use Finale and started building a sound library. For two years I've plugged away at this project of the two cantatas and my knowledge has grown, and inevitably my voice has improved even at this age due to the variety of recordings available via my comparison with the pros and my own singing, and your comments. The recording of BWV 51 took eleven months, and the recording of BWV 52 only a month--showing how much I'd learned in the process. How could anyone be so blessed at this point in life? But to do something like this one has to want the accomplishment very badly, and sometimes I despaired of ever making the climb. Today I am so grateful.

Thank you, thank you, thank you all.

 

Cantata recommendations, by pairs, or paired with choral chestnuts for concerts

Bruce Simonson [Juneau, Alaska] wrote (January 4, 2008):
I'm guessing this has been covered before, but as I haven't been on the list in a while, I thought I'd ask, to see if current participants can steer me to previous discussions, if they exist.

I love performing Bach cantatas, and enjoy developing programs for my community chorus and orchestra that "hang together". In my experience, I have found that one cantata is not enough for a complete program, so I've worked hard to program them in pairs, that make sense together. Here are some examples:

BWV 1 and BWV 61 (Annunciation and 1st Sunday in Advent; share the same Abgesang in the final movements; Annunciation predates Advent by 9 months (do the math)). Very satisfactory as a pair in early December.

3rd Orchestral Suite, BWV 81, Mendelssohn Psalm 42. BWV 81 and Mendelssohn's Opus 42 both talk about storms. BWV 81 is a great cantata, Op 42 has a beautiful quintet for STTBB. Great program, we performed this after the Katrina disaster.

Brandenburg 6, Bach 2nd Cello suite, and Faure Requiem. Featured low strings; performed on 1st anniversary of September 11, 2001.

2nd Violin Partita (with the Ciaconne) and BWV 51. Another great program, introduced with an Organ chorale from the Leipzig 15.

This program was designed around the theme of "Light", was very satisfactory:
BWV 118 - O Jesu Christ, mein Leben's Licht
BWV 6 - Bleib bei uns
BWV 140 - Wachet auf

Monster program of Bach masterpieces:
BWV 137 Lobe den Herren
BWV 229 Komm Jesu Komm
BWV 225:2 Singet dem Herren (middle movement)
BWV 226:3 Der Geist hilft (final chorale)
BWV 232:26 B Minor Mass (Agnus Dei)
BWV 232:27 B Minor Mass (Dona nobis pacem)

BWV 10 and Mozart Solennes Vespers, K339. Both have a Magnificat; fugue in Mozart K339:4 is related to Bach's Motet Komm Jesu Komm, and also the fugues in Mozart's Requiem (Mozart to Bach connection is very evident). Also, Tonus Perigrinus in BWV 10 (as well as in BWV 243) is in Mozart's Requiem as the soprano solo line in the first movement.

Am considering BWV 79 (Gott der Herr) and BWV 192 (incomplete, based on the chorale Nun danket alle Gott). BWV 79:3 is based on this chorale. I'm thinking of concluding the program with BWV 252, which is also a setting of this chorale, set for SATB with horn obligatti. (This program might be next fall, around Reformation Sunday).

This Pentecost, probably BWV 34 and Brandenburg 1. Mainly because we have an excellent high school horn player who will graduate this spring, and she and her father (who is a fine horn player as well) can play the horn parts together as father/daughter in Brandenburg 1. And we also have a great high school mezzo who can sing the alto aria in BWV 34. However, I'm a little stuck on this program, because I like to end each program with an SATB chorale, so the audience can sing along if they like (BWV 34 clearly doesn't meet that criterion). So I am considering the adding the last movement of BWV 29, but I'm not so sure about this, as it is a little more involved than I would like, and also, BWV 29 probably should be kept intact for another program. Anybody think of a good chorale (related to BWV 34, or something around Pentecost, for example) to finish the program after BWV 34?

I'm considering the E Major Violin Concerto and BWV 4 as a pair around Easter.

I've thought that BWV 60 and BWV 80 would be great as a pair, as BWV 60 is about infinity in time, and I really think BWV 80's orchestration is about infinity in space. Great program on Infinity.

I'm thinking of doing BWV 187 in conjunction with a commissioned play based on the book of Ruth (i.e., watch the play, and then hear this cantata).

Anyway, those are some of my program ideas.

With that preamble, what I'm looking for, however, are two kinds of suggestions for programs from the knowledgable on this list, based on personal experience and love of the genre:

a) Bach cantata pairs that really work together, or a cantata with relevant related Bach chamber work, or

b) An appropriate Bach cantata to pair with the following (assuring both variety, and synergy compare and contrast):

a) Schubert Mass in G
b) Vivald Gloria
c) Beethoven Mass in C
d) other chestnuts?

I'd like to do BWV 19 soon, and am looking for a choral work or instrumental work to flesh out the program.

A couple of other things I shoot for in my programs:

a) I always try to include parts for childrens' chorus, when possible (the choral soprano lines in BWV 1 + BWV 61 are very doable by childrens choir, for example).

b) I like to program cantatas around the liturgical church year, as this provides an interesting hook for the program, and introducing the works to the audience in a pre-concert "lecture" with examples from the music.

Is this an interesting question for folks?

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 4, 2008):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< I'm guessing this has been covered before, but as I haven't been on the list in a while, I thought I'd ask, to see if current participants can steer me to previous discussions, if they exist.
I love performing Bach cantatas, and enjoy developing programs for my community chorus and orchestra that "hang together". >
You might consider doing a historical recreation of a Bach festival along the lines of Paul McCreesh's "Epiphany Mass". Below is the concert program which I'm researching for Christmas 2009 for the Tallis Choir of Toronto. It's particularly appealing because it puts the organ works and choral works of Bach back into close proximity -- something which rarely happened in modern concerts.

********************************************************

BACH: MASS FOR THE THIRD DAY OF CHRISTMAS

1. Prelude before Introit
Bach: Fugue in G Minor

2. Introit Motet
Schein: Puer Natus in Bethlehem

3. Prelude before Kyrie
Bach: Gottes Sohn ist Kommen

4. Kyrie
Bach: Missa Brevis in F Major, BWV
.Kyrie (Chorus:S,A,T,B)

5.Gloria:
Bach: Missa Brevis in F Major, BWV
Gloria in excelsis Deo(Chorus:S,A,T,B)
Domine Deus(Aria:B)
Qui tollis peccata mundi(Aria:S)
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus(Aria:A)
Cum sancto Spiritu(Chorus:S,A,T,B)

6. Salutation & Collect:
Praetorius: Responses

7. Epistle - Chant

8.Organ before Hymn of the Season:
Bach: Vom Himmel Hoch

9. Hymn of Season (de tempore)
Schein: Vom Himmel Hoch

10.Gospel with Praetorius responses - Chant

11. Prelude before cantata:
Bach: Vom Himmel Hoch (big)

INTERVAL

12. Cantata
Bach: Cantata 40: Dazu ist Ersecheinen, BWV 40

1.Chorus[Dictum](S,A,T,B)
2.Recitativo(T)
3.Chorale(S,A,T,B)
4.Aria(B)
5.Recitativo (A)
6.Chorale(S,A,T,B)
7.Aria(T)
8.Chorale(S,A,T,B)

13. Prelude before Offertory hymn:
Bach: In Dulci Jubilo

14. Offertory Hymn:
Schein: In Dulci Jubilo

15. Preface in Latin - Praetorius responses
16. Sanctus in D Major

17. Verba: Words of Institution - Chant

18. Pater Noster: Vater Unser - Chant

19.Prelude before Motet:
Bach: Jesu Mein Zuversicht

20. Communion Motet
Bach: Lobet Den Herrn,

21. Post Comnmunion Prayer - Chant

22. Hymn:
Jesus richte mein Beginnen
(Christmas Oratorio, Part IV)

Bruce Simonson wrote (January 5, 2008):
[To Douglas Cowling] Wow, This looks like a Great Program! I especially like the dovetailing of organ works. These really aren't heard enough, in my opinion, probably because fewer and fewer churches invest or maintain their investments in real organs. Saddens me a lot. Please keep me posted on this program, I'd like to hear more about what stays on the list.

I especially like seeing Vom Himmel Hoch on the program; when I was in 3rd grade, my family lived in a small village in southern Germany, and I remember learning something like 17 verses of this hymn in the local elementary school religion class. There is a beautiful version of this hymn in the Bach Magnificat (interpolated with the Latin texts in the E-flat version, I believe), which might be a nice SSATB piece for your program. We have performed this both as a vocal work and as an instrumental transcription here in Juneau.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 5, 2008):
Bruce Simonson wrote:
< I especially like seeing Vom Himmel Hoch on the program; when I was in 3rd grade, my family lived in a small village in southern Germany, and I remember learning something like 17 verses of this hymn in the local elementary school religion class. There is a beautiful version of this hymn in the Bach Magnificat (interpolated with the Latin texts in the E-flat version, I believe), which might be a nice SSATB piece for your program. >
Another wonderful concert would be a recreation of Christmas Vespers of December 25, 1723 with Cantata BWV 63, "Christen Atzet Diesen Tag" and the Magnificat in E Flat including those delightful interpolations. Add apporpraite organ pieces and a psalm setting by Schutz and you have a very exciting evening.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 5, 2008):
This is an obvious point and you will doubless have thought of it, but it is a long and fruitful process offering many possibilities when considering concert programmes of the cantatas i.e. to examine the extant works written for the same day. There are often three and sometimes four of these.

For example, if one was looking for a programme of contrasting cantatas to highlight an excellent choir, one could consider those composed for the feast of St Michael. All complete cantatas (BWV 130, BWV 19 and BWV 149) open with large scale and impressive choruses depicting the battle, or more correctly the victory over Satan. The incomplete cantata for this day, BWV 50, has just the one chorus movement a rare example of the use of the double choir. The arias of the complete works are highly contrasting and of high musical quality.

Thus a grouping of say BWV 130 and either BWV 19 or BWV 149 separated by the movement comprising 50 might work well for a choral based programme.

For extremes of contrast one might look at, say, the cantatas for the 6th Sunday after Trinity. Only two exist and they are highly contrasting works--BWV 170 is an original and intimate work featuring organ obligato (and you need an excellent alto soloist of course) and BWV 9 is one of the last chorale cantatas perhaps written to fill one of the gaps in the second cycle.

I am nearing the end of a project which, among other things, seeks to birng some focus of comparison upon the later cantatas (from cycle three on) and their contextual relationships to the cantatas from the first and second cycles (and also some from the pre-Leipzig repertoire, a lot of which were re-used in the first cycle anyway) written for the same day. Dürr is the useful book here because he sets out the cantatas according to the days for which they were written.

So my suggestion would be to take any cantata you like from the third or fourth cycles (include also the few later ones) as set out by Wolff and turn back to compare it with those earlier ones written for the same day.

Even if you don't find the perfect programming choices you are looking for, it's a fascinating exercise in itself.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (January 5, 2008):
[To Bruce Simonson] Our last concert of December was precisely on the theme of "Von Himmel hoch", with motets composed by two members of the Bach family: http://www.minimes.be/saison.php
The first motet, for double choir and based on seven verses of the hymn, was only discovered in 1989, and was beautifully arranged by our artistic director, Julius Stenzel, who conducted the concert.

 

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Last update: ýNovember 3, 2008 ý09:53:50