Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 9
Continue from Part 8
Characterisation of style, in print
Bradley Lehman wrote (March 15, 2004):
< In general, there is some difficulty in writing about conductors for a dictionary like Grove's. You're not expected to act like a critic and just voice your personal opinion; on the other hand, one could reasonably expect the entry to contain a characterisation of the performer. Perhaps Anderson erred on the side of caution (especially in the case of Herreweghe); but, at least in this context, understatement is preferable to overstatement. In any case, reading one dictionary entry is maybe sufficient to get the basic information. But if you want a characterisation of style, my first recommendation would be -- read more than one reviewer! >
My first recommendation, when I want a characterisation of any performer's style, is not to read ANYBODY'S written words about it, but to go listen to as many recordings by that person as possible. Written words never do justice to the event. They're always filtered through a reviewer's expectations and priorities and dichotomies and generalisations.
In the case of someone as well-known as Herreweghe, the recordings are readily available in shops, libraries, and web samples...characterisation in print is hardly needed, except perhaps for performers where there have been marked changes during the course of a career. Herreweghe has been pretty steady: strongly based on the meaning and inflection of the words (even getting his instrumentalists to play as if they're reading a sung text), strong on spiritual content (excelling IMO in the sacred-music repertoire, 14th-19th centuries), conservative in instrumentation and choral deployment, and dependable in doing things that are at least nominally stylistically "correct" (where it seems IMO that he is doing things because he finds them musically convincing and not just to follow anyone's scholarly instructions...he integrates details into the big picture with an emphasis on naturalness and flow). For example, I think his recordings of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's music are notably graceful and focused, and indeed I enjoy listening to them more than to Christie's, even though Christie is more of a specialist in that area. Herreweghe is such a strong generalist (if that's not an oxymoron). Generalists are hard to pin down....
I agree with the observation above that general dictionary entries are especially difficult to write. This was pounded into my head in the first two core courses of the musicology curriculum, in our own writing assignments and the models we discussed in class--there are so many audiences one must serve in a general dictionary, to capture just the right amount of detail and right tone becomes an impossible task. It looks easy...until one tries it and hears feedback from people who have different perspectives.
< PS -- I do suspect there is an error about Ristenpart (though others on this list might know better): perhaps he performed, but did not record, the complete Bach cantatas. There would be a point in writing to Grove's to enquire about this: since they're online now, it shouldn't be too difficult for them to correct mistakes -- if any. >
The list member was quoting from the Oxford Composer Companion, not Grove's. There's also a blooper in Anderson's "Recordings" article in the Oxford, where the violinist Thibaud's first name is given as "Pierre" rather than "Jacques."
Johan van Veen wrote (March 15, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Although I agree with your view that Herreweghe's performing style is pretty steady, there has been a shift nevertheless, as Herreweghe himself has admitted in interviews. His performances of 19th century music have led to a more legato style in his performances of baroque music. He himself has said that he discovered legato. In some of his earliest recordings, for example one with motets by members of the Bach family, his approach is much stricter non-legato and very detailed articulation of single words and syllables.
His later recordings are much smoother (something I don't like at all).
And his choice of singers recently also reflects a somewhat different approach to baroque music. In his earlier years he almost exclusively used baroque specialists, whereas nowadays he works with singers like Ian Bostrige, of whom I always wonder what he is doing in HIP performances of 18th century music.
Lingering ignorance in performance practice
J. Buck wrote (April 11, 2004):
I'm new here but a huge and, I flatter myself, educated fan.
Yesterday I was privileged to sing in a performance of the St. John Passion (BWV 245), and while it was idiomatic in most respects, the conductor insisted on treating the fermatas at the end of every chorale phrase as real holds. It was maddening. Can anybody explain this seemingly willful insistence on retaining one's pet Victorianism? Any similar stories to share?
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 11, 2004):
A new member inquired about fermatas. Go to Aryeh Oron's site at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/
and type in a search for 'fermata'
Ingeborg Schwester (J.B.) wrote (April 11, 2004):
With all due respect to Braatz,
The underlying assumption that the fermata is a "performance" indicator is merely that: an assumption. Certainly, in performing parts, it may be so. Yet, in score, the "fermata" may have been utilzed as a shorthand signifier of a tempo (metre) change. This is not a new idea, I refer the reader to the writings of Dr. Don Franklin who has addressed this matter. The "holding" fermata is a small matter which one might debate. The "notational fermata" which occurs in the middle of an uninterrupted movement or sequence thereof may be of a different convention. In fact it may, as Franklin suggests, be a reference to, and extension of, Rennaissance conventions re temporal egalities and correspondences, which are unclear to many: and me at least. The above is cautionary in nature.
From afar, JB.
Uri Golomb wrote (April 11, 2004):
< Yesterday I was privileged to sing in a performance of the St. John Passion (BWV 245), and while it was idiomatic in most respects, the conductor insisted on treating the fermatas at the end of every chorale phrase as real holds. It was maddening. Can anybody explain this seemingly willful insistence on retaining one's pet Victorianism? >
This remains a contentious issue, with both sides offering evidence to support the view that fermatas were --- or were not -- treated as hold. Probably because there was no consistent practice at the time, and musicians often made the decision on the spot (Brad made a convincing case for this option).
Here's an extract from my interview with Ton Koopman, where he talks about this issue:
"Take the issue of how to perform fermatas in the chorales - should the note under the fermata be held longer? For a long time the conventional view was not to hold these notes; and then Harnoncourt started to extend them. For years, everybody followed him in not extending the fermatas, and then he reverted to the previous practice. And now everybody is following him again! Nobody is thinking why it's being done. So with these things, I do my own research, and I'm very independent. In the case of the fermatas, I think the earlier practice is the right one - they should not be held. I see no reason to do that. David Schildkret wrote an article about this in the Riemenschneider Bach journal in 1989; after examining many chorale books, he concluded quite clearly that the fermata is just an indication of the transition from one line of the chorale to the next. There's also another indication that you should not slow down at a fermata - and you should be an organist to know that: in the Orgelbüchlein, there are lots of fermatas at the end of individual lines of the chorale melody, but there are semiquavers still going on in one of the other parts. You can see something similin some of the early cantatas - the part with the chorale has a fermata, while at the same time the violin obbligato part is still going on, without a pause. So I think nobody can honestly maintain, after having done research, that you should keep the fermatas. Yes, the fermata does mark a cadenza in some arias. But if you want to make cadenzas at those points in the chorales, you should recall that there's one text about Bach's organ playing, where one of his students - I don't remember who it is, I think it was Agricola but I'm not certain - said that Bach didn't like organists who introduced runs and ornaments at the end of chorale lines. So you have corroborating evidence, from several sides, proving that you should not hold fermatas in chorales."
However, for an argument in favour of holding fermatas, see: http://homepages.kdsi.net/~sherman/Suzuki.html#fermatas.
Bradley Lehman wrote (April 12, 2004):
<< Yesterday I was privileged to sing in a performance of the St. John Passion (BWV 245), and while it was idiomatic in most respects, the conductor insisted on treating the fermatas at the end of every chorale phrase as real holds. It was maddening. Can anybody explain this seemingly willful insistence on retaining one's pet Victorianism? >>
< This remains a contentious issue, with both sides offering evidence to support the view that fermatas were --- or were not -- treated as hold. Probably because there was no consistent practice at the time, and musicians often made the decision on the spot (Brad made a convincing case for this option). >
Yep. In addition to my comments on: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Fermata.htm
about fermatas all the way through the Orgelbüchlein and the Schemelli chorales, here are a few more observations:
- Most of the pieces in Well-Tempered Clavier book 1 have a fermata either on the final note(s) or the double bar. I suggest it probably means nothing more consistent than noticing the end of the piece and finding something suitable to do (not necessarily holding any notes longer). Last night at an Easter midnight service I played the B-flat prelude and fugue from that book--on organ--and at the end of the prelude I did the final run up to the top of the keyboard and played that note under the fermata staccato! (Why should that final note stick out as any longer than the others of that particular phrase? I don't think it should. It's all just a flourish.) Then I reduced the registration by one stop and played the fugue. Admittedly this is experimental, but the point is not to be dogmatic at fermatas or any other marking; merely to do something musically effective and intelligent. I thought it worked very well in the occasion.
- Another example piece against the holding of fermata-notes is the final chorale of the cantata #31, from Easter Sunday 1715 (brilliant piece that I was listening to several times today anyway, for Easter). The first violin and the trumpet end several of their phrases by resolving a 9-8 suspension after the beat...and in some of these it's a melodic line that keeps going in the same direction in the same note values (quavers). The fermata on the resolution could hardly be anything prescriptive here, other than an indication that other people (the singers) are breathing there at the end of their phrase of the chorale. Quick breath with no extra time in the voice parts and other instruments, while violin and trumpet keep up the continuity of meter in that moving line.
To see this example conveniently: part of a score is reproduced on page 122 of Laurence Dreyfus' book Bach's Continuo Group. It's a score put together from the surviving parts, since there is no extant autograph score. As some other editions have done, this one also brings all the parts to the same pitch by transposing some down from E-flat to C, instead of by transposing the others from C up to E-flat. This about fermatas isn't the point Dreyfus was making with that passage; I just happened to notice the fermatas here while reading about bassoons and the way they and the other winds were at Chorton, Cammerton, and/or Tief-Cammerton. He also has a footnote elsewhere explaining how the Bach-Gesellschaft editor erred in the treatment of the two cello parts from different performances, for this cantata. Since this is a book that every conductor should read anyway, that's a handy and obvious example to point out on this issue of fermatas....
Madrigalism and academic performance
Bradley Lehman wrote (April 12, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote: < Rifkin's OVPP Mass was sometimes dismissed as "The B-Minor Madrigal", the term was meant as a mockery -- as if Rifkin (and OVPP forces in general) somewhat reduced the music's stature. But arguably, this way of thinking is based on a gross under-estimation of madrigals. Madrigals have been -- for a large part of the genre's history -- expressively intense pieces, which thrived on the constant dialogue between voices. Cantus Colln are experienced exponents of the madrigal, and of German sacred concerti inspired by Italian madrigals (and which led, eventually, to Bach's cantatas); at their best, they reveal how a "minimalist" approach to Bach's vocal music can enhance its expressive intensity (as well as its textural clarity). >
Absolutely. Indeed, the word "madrigalism" means (in advanced musical circles, anyway) the expressive illustration of a sung text in musical figures. That is, it's the way the Italian madrigal composers reacted to poetry...and it became the seconda prattica and Baroque music itself, at the beginning of the 17th century. In that tradition, Bach was just one more supreme master of madrigalism, in his vocal works: that high Baroque skill of setting words to intensely expressive music, with a localized use of musical figures.
This reminds me of the way another list member tried this weekend to dismiss a Rifkin performance as "academic", as if "academic" is something inferior. Having heard performances by university faculty for more than 25 years, and having participated in some of them, I know there's a huge range. Some "academic" performances are nondescript, and other "academic" performances are revelatory and inspiring. It's an "academic" person's job to be inspiring to those who are there willing to learn something. I suspect the attempted dismissal of Rifkin's work as "academic" is meaningless. It looked to me like just one more piece of wild guesswork coming from someone who is regularly anti-academic in his preferences (yet, one who claims to enjoy and understand madrigals!). How would a non-academic person who regularly disdains the value of education know what an "academic" performance of music is? Does "academic" mean--to him--anything he doesn't understand and doesn't fancy?
Dale Gedcke wrote (April 12, 2004):
The appended e-mail from Neil triggers my curiosity about the notation conventions that Bach used in his original scores.
As an amateur musician, all the scores I get to see have been transcribed and/or arranged into the notation conventions that have been the norm since the early 1900s. Occasionally, trumpet scores will come in two versions, one transposed for a Bb or C trumpet, and the other denoted, "as originally written". Even in those latter examples, the notes are written for the modern music publishing system and modern printing presses. Although, the instructions above the staff are sometimes the original words.
So, I find myself wondering, "What notation conventions did Bach use in his original manuscripts?" Most of us never get to see those originals.
For example: Does Bach use the breve (double the value of the modern whole note, a.k.a., semi-breve), or had he transitioned to using tied semi-breves, per the modern practice? If he used the breve, how did he write it, a solid square, an open square, or an open circle bounded by two vertical lines?
In researching ornamentation appropriate to Baroque music performed on the trumpet in the clarino range (abthe treble clef), I stumbled across a reference to the special short-hand notation that J.S. Bach had invented to define such ornamentation (see www.dolmetsch.com/musictheory23.htm). The table of ornamentations that J.S. Bach prepared for his son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, implies that Bach had progressed to using quarter notes (Crotchets), eighth notes (Quavers), dotted eighth notes, sixteenth notes (Semiquavers), and thirty-second notes (Demisemiquavers). Is this implication confirmed by the rest of his surviving original Cantatas scores?
The use of the direction, "alla Breve" is intriguing. I am naive on the history of music. There are others in this discussion group who are much better educated in that field, and who can probably shed some light on the topic. But, I looked in a pocket music dictionary compiled by C. F. Thiele and published by the Waterloo Music Company in the1950s. He lists "alla Breve" (translation from modern Italian: at the Breve; or, at the double-whole note) as follows:
Alla Breve: (Italian); a quick species of common time marked:
- Caccia: (I), hunting style.
- Camera: (I), chamber music style.
- Capella: (I), church style.
- Madre: (I), songs and hymns to the virgin.
- Marcia: (I), Military or march style.
- Militaire: (I), Military or march style.
Apparently, in the B-Minor Mass, Bach uses "alla Breve" along with a cut-common time signature, but with no modifying words following "alla Breve". It is difficult to understand how "at the Breve" came to imply a faster tempo, .... particularly when the words seem to imply simply that the modifier to the "alla Breve" should be applied starting at the next (presumably immediate) occurrence of a Breve note.
Recently, I saw some information that indicated that the metronome came into fashion during Beethoven's lifetime (1770 - 1827), and Beethoven began to use metronome markings part way through his career as a composer. If that information is accurate, then J. S. Bach did not have the benefit of a metronome during his lifetime (1685 - 1750). Thus, we are left with subjective interpretations of what Bach intended for the tempi he designated by words. That leaves performances of the B-Minor Mass open to various interpretations of tempi. Subsequently, it becomes a matter of the taste of the conductor versus the listener.
Several of you have access to the original scores, and substantial background on the history of Bach's music. Can you please briefly enlighten me on Bach's notation conventions?
On April 9, 2004, Neil wrote:
There are six movements in the BMM with a time signature of cut C.
1. 2nd Kyrie.
4. Patrem omnipotentem
6. Dona nobis.
In the CD-ROM score, only two movements are marked 'Alla breve', namely, the second Kyrie, and the Gratias. Note that the Dona nobis is not so designated. (Interestingly, there is also a slight variation in the orchestration between these two movements).
Numbers 4 and 5 (above) have two minims to a bar; the rest have two semibreves to a bar.
Footnote: My Eulenburg edition shows only one movement marked 'Alla breve', namely, the 2nd Kyrie: this variation from score to score is a little disconcerting, as I noted recently with discrepencies over time signatures for the cantata 'French overture ' movements. Interesting fact: the 2nd Kyrie is the only movement of the BMM that does not have any quavers at all.
Regarding the speed of the Dona nobis, who wants to quiz Hengelbrock or Hickox over whether they know what they are doing? (Conversely, I'm happy to let Junghänel make his choices; whether I choose to listen to him or not should be of no concern to anyone).
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 12, 2004):
A list member retorted:
>>This reminds me of the way another list member tried this weekend to dismiss a Rifkin performance as "academic", as if "academic" is something inferior.<<
>>How would a non-academic person who regularly disdains the value of education know what an "academic" performance of music is? Does "academic" mean--to him--anything he doesn't understand and doesn't fancy?<<
Check the OED (Oxford University Press, 2002):
“academic” = unpractical, theoretical, conventional; conforming too rigidly to principles (in painting, etc.)
[the latter notion applies as well to musical groups which adhere too strictly to theoretical precepts regarding performance practice generally known to exist under the label of ‘HIP.’ In this case, [Rifkin, an academic scholar], an arguably questionable theory has been realized and has taken on a life of its own with numerous emulators (or partial emulators) adhering academically (too rigidly conforming) to what an academic experimenter has presented.]
Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 12, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] This is typical of the selective (and partial) use of quotation, in order to apparently "prove" something that he would like to be true, that is Mr Braatz's speciality. "Academic" as he knows quite well, also means "of an academy (or university)". It also means "scholarly".
Bradley Lehman wrote (April 12, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] To summarize: you also don't understand and don't fancy the results. Therefore you offer this argument of semantics instead of substance, to try to justify "academic" as a term of condemning somebody's fine work.
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 12, 2004):
A list member attempted the following feeble summary while neglecting the original context of usage ('context' being an all important aspect of performance practice in music as well):
>>To summarize: you also don't understand and don't fancy the results. Therefore you offer this argument of semantics instead of substance, to try to justify "academic" as a term of condemning somebody's fine work<<
Not condemning, only characterizing in the context of the original statement that was made.
John Pike wrote (April 13, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I have recordings by Rifkin of six Bach cantatas...all of them excellent. I particularly enjoy the duet from BWV 78, which I recall was slated as "not being real singing" by someone on one of these lists last year. IMHO, Rifkin and his soloists give a very lively, sprightly account of this with perfect intonation...much better I feel than the Harnoncourt/Leonharrdt recording on Teldec, which I also have.
John Pike wrote (April 13, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I totally agree with this and with Gabriel. Odd that Thomas should make such a pejorative remark about the term "academic" when he has posted some fairly academic e mails to this list. I am using the term here in its positive sense.
Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 14, 2004):
John Pike wrote: < I have recordings by Rifkin of six Bach cantatas...all of them excellent. >
The other six on Double Decca are just as good, to my mind. Contrary to what has been recently asserted, Rifkin is a very good musician, as well as scholar.
Performance is more than what is written
Dale Gedcke wrote (April 16, 2004):
Jason Marmaras wrote:
< I cannot resist to mention an example I heard at class:
Imagine all audio data about the Beetles gone, performance of their works ceased, for fifty years. Someone reads about the Beetles and is excited by their ideals and way of life, and decides to play their music. Would he succeed in playing what they played - what is meant in the score? Perhaps, knowing their lifestyle, concert conditions et c., he would be able to get closer than if he was just examining the score. And - although it is a different style of music, with different notation habits et c. - don't we know that, (at least) in the renaissance, scores (or rather, parts) were quite more "symbolic" or (*) than today's scores? So why suppose that, against all scholarly research to date, Musicians in the baroque suddenly started playing exactly what was written on the paper? The first wrong result of this way of thinking is the assumption that (since there are no crescendi, not many forte and piano markings, no ritenuti) baroque musicians played everything in a flat volume. (and even in the harpsi, you can't do that - the volume increases with each additional note in a chord or trill - ask a cembalist). Perhaps it would be wiser to pursue (through research et c.) the understanding of what is meant-but-not-written, than to try to prove their inexistence(!)... >
Regarding the appended e-mail from Jason:
Last Saturday in the Oak Ridge Community Orchestra I had to sight-read the trumpet parts for a Mozart symphony. This symphony was written in the era when trumpets and French horns had no valves. Consequently, all those instruments could play was the basic harmonic intervals of a conical tube of fixed length. The diatonic scale was not accessible until above C on the treble clef. As a result, the notes that Mozart scored for the brass are rather mundane accompaniment for the stringed instruments. In this symphony it was typically a series of bars with one minim followed by two crotchets in the bar. That is certainly not as exciting and lyrical as a trumpet solo in Glen Miller's music!
Part way through the rehearsal, the conductor stopped and said, "You are not making those notes sound interesting enough. Let me show you what I mean." She picked up the violin from the concert master and played two examples. The first was with simple, straight-forward bowing on all three notes. They sounded dull and uninteresting. Then she accented the notes differently and varied the vibrato among the three notes. "That's what I mean about making those notes more interesting," she said.
The moral of the story is: Mozart didn't provide sufficient instruction in his score to force the musician to play the notes in a specific, interesting manner. He expected the musicians to add the appropriate flavor. That's the difference between a beginner and an accomplished musician. The beginner makes music sound dull and uninteresting, by simply playing the notes as they are written. The accomplished musician adds color and makes the music sing. Both are playing the same notes and following the same directions in the score.
The difference between dull and interesting is virtually impossible to write into the score itself. That is where the art and skill of playing the music becomes important.
So Jason is right. We can be sure that Bach's musicians did not play exactly the plain notes written in the original scores. They added their own color to it. Curiously, that color is not universal across the centuries. The style changes with time, both with the players, and the conductors. It is also shaped by the changing tastes of the audiences.
John Pike wrote (April 16, 2004):
[To Dale Gedcke] I once remember hearing about a student at conservatoire who thought rather more of herself than was justified. The professor asked her to play a concerto on one note, which she was unable to even contemplate. The professor then demonstrated something which was, apparently, astoundingly good.
Thomas Braatz wrote (April 16, 2004):
Dale Gedcke wrote: >>So Jason is right. We can be sure that Bach's musicians did not play exactly the plain notes written in the original scores. They added their own color to it. Curiously, that color is not universal across the centuries. The style changes with time, both with the players, and the conductors. It is also shaped by the changing tastes of the audiences.<<
Yes, and the assumption that modern audiences (or modern conductors who ‘are trying very hard to make things more interesting’) are expecting something else is based upon this notion of the ‘changing tastes of the audiences.’ This latter notion can be manipulated by conductors/performers who may modify or bring about a change in what general audiences might come to accept as being ‘in period style.’ Some good can come from all these changes, for instance, the sweeping away of certain performance excesses of past periods. These, then, are replaced with new approaches, which can just as well become the excesses that a future generation will sweep away. In all of these performances, old and new, there are always some that go beyond the current, moderate standard of performance which is in place (romantic, funereal lugubriosity vs. hiatus-replete fractionation/fragmentation of musical phrases.) Some of these performances achieve, despite the fact that they are ‘time-bound,’ an excellent level of universal musicality that appeals to more than one generation (where recordings are available.) Others, however, resort to extreme interpretative measures which reduce their appeal on this aforementioned level of universal musicality, a level which can generally be distinguished by perceptive listeners.
Then there is the claim, explicit or implied, which many performance groups make that their performances are ‘historically accurate’ and/or based upon ‘being historically informed’ (and yet using modern-day instruments), or based upon being both ‘historically informed’ and ‘using instruments based upon models from Bach’s time or singing in the style of singing that Bach was accustomed to.’ With these latter performance groups there is a great likelihood IMO that they may ‘go to extremes’ to bring out certain aspects of Bach’s music based upon the theories held by some musicologists/conductors/performers, some of these theories being less viable or reliable in the use of documentary evidence than others. The road of moderation is shunned in favor of providing unusual effects (extreme tempi, rubato, vibrato, truncation of note values, etc.) which begin to distort Bach’s music beyond that which Bach may have intended.
I will offer only two examples at this time which happen to come to mind: In his fairly recent recording of Bach’s Magnificat BWV 243a (the earlier Eb version), Thomas Hengelbrock (who gained experience playing in Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s ‘Concentus musicus,’ [which is definite proof, among many other things in this recording, that he belongs quite firmly to the group of ‘historically informed’ who place importance upon reproducing Bach’s intentions as carefully and intelligently as possible,] treats the ‘Bassetchen’- bc accompaniment which is given by Bach in mvt. 10 (‘Suscepit Israel’) as generally repeated quarter notes, usually three in a series as a very noticeable staccato although nothing of the sort is indicated in the score. See http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Perform-Gen7.htm beginning with >>Since I recently posted for study purposes both NBA versions of mvt. 10 (Suscepit Israel) of Bach’s Magnificat, it might be easier for those reading this message to compare the lowest line [Bassetchen] marked ‘Violini e Viola all unisono’ which consists, for the most part of quarter notes with occasional eighth-note passages. How does Hengelbrock treat this line musically?...<<
As a second example I want to focus on the matter of vibrato in Bach performances. One performer I would mention specifically as an example is Ludwig Güttler, a recognized instrumentalist and specialist in playing trumpets and horns. Despite his technical proficiency, I am always left slightly unsatisfied when his use of rather consistent vibrato intrudes upon the clarity and brilliance that I have come to expect from many of Bach’s trumpet parts. It is quite disconcerting when Güttler even maintains this vibrato on the individual, shorter quarter- and eighth-notes in succession, thus making the tone/pitch of each of these notes sound insecure, and possibly slightly ‘off-pitch.’ On the recordings of the Bach cantatas, there are singers who likewise indulge in this practice, managing to use a vibrato on each successive note of a relatively quickly moving coloratura. These are singers who also use a persistent vibrato almost everywhere else in an aria. It is as if they are unable to control this vibrato and are unable to ‘turn it off’ at will. With French horns there is an interesting situation, a long-standing tradition among European orchestras: in the French style, they are played with continuous vibrato, but in the German style, they are not. If my memory serves me correctly, I think I have heardHermann Baumann, a great French horn player who also plays ‘period horns’ as well, play both ways. I assume here that if a conductor wants a perform Berlioz with a German orchestra, he/she may ask Hermann Baumann to ‘turn on’ the vibrato to make the sound more authentic. Unfortunately, I have also heard this same artist play Bach with vibrato. This may mean that either he or the conductor have the notion that Bach would have wanted it this way. Perhaps they have simply given into the notion held similarly by the conductor that Dale Gedcke mentioned: ‘We have to make the notes sound more interesting, hence varying degrees of vibrato will be employed.’ But didn’t Bach frequently specify quite clearly without resorting to vibrato how to make his music sound more interesting by indicating when and where articulation would help to bring out the inner musicality already residing in the notated score/parts?
Even Bach can be made to sound dull
Anne Smith wrote (May 16, 2004):
< Surely a dull performance is a dull performance? It makes no difference whether the performer is a musicologist or not. But to suggest that dullness is an inevitable product of period practice would be absurd. >
Agreed. Read over my last post. I did not say all period practice performances were dull. I also did not say that all non-period performances were as exciting as Glenn Gould.
I am not going to get sucked into the HIP arguments. I just wanted to say that music needs a bit of life. Being historically correct is not all there is too music.
In my original post I stated that one does not need to be a musicologist to listen to music. I would guess that not too many on this list agree with me. Maybe someone will come up with a law saying you need at least a Mus.Bac. before you can buy a Bach CD.
Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 16, 2004):
Anne Smith wrote: < I did not say all period practice performances were dull. >
So what was the point then? Of course some period performances are dull, just as some non-period performances are dull.
"In my original post I stated that one does not need to be a musicologist to listen to music. I would guess that not too many on this list agree with me. "
I very much doubt anyone here would disagree!
Bradley Lehman wrote (May 16, 2004):
< In my original post I stated that one does not need to be a musicologist to listen to music. I would guess that not too many on this list agree with me. Maybe someone will come up with a law saying you need at least a Mus.Bac. before you can buy a Bach CD. >
Would anyone on this list assert that one needs to be (or even "should" be) a musicologist to listen to Bach's or any other music? I doubt it!
For that matter, are there any active members here with musicology degrees (musicology specifically, beyond general Mus.Bac.), other than the impending Dr Golomb and me? (Speak up!) Why would anyone who doesn't have one make any statement or law that would exclude herself/himself from listening to music?
Pierce Drew wrote (May 16, 2004):
Anne Smith wrote: < In my original post I stated that one does not need to be a musicologist to listen to music. I would guess that not too many on this list agree with me. Maybe someone will come up with a law saying you need at least a Mus.Bac. before you can buy a Bach CD. >
I complete agree, Anne. Case in point: Bach's original audience. How many were even literate, I wonder?
Many have argued that Bach's compositions were unappreciated and musically "over the heads" of his contemporaries (Gardiner used the biblical metaphor of "pearls cast before swine"). But, still, these were the people he composed for, no? Or was he composing for posterity? ;)
Johan van Veen wrote (May 16, 2004):
[To Pierce Drew] I am sure not everyone in the St Thomas' in Leipzig understood everything in Bach's music. But many will have immediately understood a lot of things we can only discover after thorough study of his music. The many references in Bach's music to passages from the Bible, his frequent quotations of chorale tunes and many other things are probably picked up immediately by many or even most members of the congregation who were more familiar with biblical and lutheran teaching than many present-day musicians and musicologists are. I think there are several 'layers' in Bach's music. Some will only have been understood by the performers, but what is wrong with that? The metaphor "pearls cast before swine" seems totally inappropriate in this respect.
Pierce Drew wrote (May 17, 2004):
[To Johan van Veen] I agree, Johan. But even with years of research and listening, we have a difficult time approaching the musical / liturgical literacy of the typical listener of St. Thomas Church ca. 1730. Indeed, all we can do is approach it -- much (along with some 100 cantatas) is irretrievably lost: that's just what happens with the passage of time.
I suppose in using the "pearls cast before swine" metaphor, Gardiner was speaking more to the problems Bach had with his employers than with parishioners. Still, it suggests (somewhat hyperbolically, I think) that we in posterity more "fully appreciate" Bach's genius than his contemporaries.
Unfortunately, we do not have many first-hand accounts of how Bach's music struck the "average-Joe." But I have a hunch that many Leipzig church-goers fell under the spell of his multi-layered music.
Stephen Benson wrote (May 20, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Would anyone on this list assert that one needs to be (or even "should" be) a musicologist to listen to Bach's or any other music? I doubt it!
For that matter, are there any active members here with musicology degrees (musicology specifically, beyond general Mus.Bac.), other than the impending Dr Golomb and me? >
. . . a fact of which list members are constantly reminded, and a fact which is trotted out at strategic moments to point out that no original or critical thinking that challenges the-world-of-music-according-to-Brad-Lehman has any credibility unless it is buttressed by those academic credentials, this despite Brad's own assertion from a recent post, "...'argumentation by authority'...is an invalid method of 'proof'."
Brad has made it clear on any number of occasions that, although "the rest of us" are generously permitted to "listen" to Bach, we cannot possibly appreciate him to the same degree that the "professionals" can and that any appreciation or understanding we may have is of a lesser order than theirs.
I do have great respect for his achievements. I don't particularly admire his condescending attitude.
Bradley Lehman wrote (May 20, 2004):
[To Stephen Benson] I'm sorry that I come across that way. But, any "condescending attitude" on my part is merely in self-defensive response to people whose public acts of condescension far exceed my own.
Donald Satz wrote (May 20, 2004):
[To Stephen Benson] I tend to agree with Mr. Benson. Brad uses his 'trump card' very often, and I do wish he would put an end to it. However, his use of a condescending attitude mostly happens after he has read some really outlandish statements concerning himself and his profession. Life on discussion boards isn't as simple as it would appear at first blush.
"equipollent" and "gestural"
Bradley Lehman wrote (June 21, 2004):
John Pike wrote (on BachCantatas): << Those extraordinary qualities still shine through for me despite almost any assault on the music, except for totally equipollent and boring playing with absolutely no emotional response from the player at all. >>
And Cara Thornton replied: < Equipollent! You know I don't remember the last time I actually saw an English word I'd never seen before? I actually had to look it up in the dictionary! >
Yes, check the archives; I think we've been using that word here for about a year, maybe two.
I brought it into the discussion as an antonym of "gestural", which itself is the clear delineation of musical figures: performers grouping notes carefully and thoughtfully by their compositional function, and bringing out shapes and patterns. The aim is to make the music immediately perceptible (and "parseable") to listeners: not a treasure-hunt of secret commeanings zooming by under a surface of notes that seem equally important (an "equipollent" style of delivery). Performers have a responsibility to make the music as clear as possible to the listeners: that is, knowing why every note is there, and then doing things that bring out the different characters and reasons for those notes, in a carefully built hierarchy (i.e. the same way Baroque music is composed: with notes as sub-elements of musical figures, phrases), so the listeners will also know immediately why every note is there.
That's "gestural" delivery, and it really has very little to do with the type of hardware the performers are using. It's a way of preparing the mind for a performance (analyzing the composition to understand the basic grammar and sense, the reasons for the notes being put together as they are), working out the detail, and then allowing that analysis to affect the articulation, dynamics, and timing of the notes in performance (while one also pushes that level of preparatory awareness slightly into the background, focusing in the foreground upon the flowing arches of longer musical phrases). I wrote an essay about this several years ago: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/purc.htm
(The link to the score there is temporarily broken as my ISP changed; but I'll get that fixed. The more important part is the essay portion, anyway.)
Last summer I gave a lecture to a conference of sociologists and psychologists, going farther than the essay does and demonstrating the points by playing various pieces by Bach on the harpsichord: demonstrating how startling a difference it makes in listeners' levels of perception of the music, when playing gesturally (clear thought) vs playing equipollently (opaque and unfocused meandering, basically). The freedom of allowing the notes and phrases to bend is ESSENTIAL to clarity, and the normal expectation of Bach and other Baroque composers. My preparatory notes from that lecture are also in the list archives here, along with reactions from some other members here.
Basically, it's akin to speaking sentences and paragraphs aloud, in conversation or on a stage: words and syllables get DIFFERENT amounts of natural emphasis according to the sense and the grammar, and it helps everything to be immediately understandable. This is all about the context, with words and syllables all allowed to have different weights and pitches according to the meaning of the passage: the opposite of speaking in a monotone. This is a feature of basic human communication, and music is a language whose rules are similar to those of spoken languages: where clarity is aided by a carefully controlled variety. Unity in diversity, for immediately perceptible meaning. The diversity keeps the listener continually engaged with the material, and the unity organizes it.
Bach's keyboard temperament works the same way, as I've been finding recently. Every scale has a subtly DIFFERENT character from every other one, for a diversity that keeps the listener attentive as the music continually modulates; while the tuning's unity also makes it sound smooth and natural overall, like a single organic being. In short, it's a gestural temperament full of natural expressive resources: all its irregularities are designed and used to advantage, as carefully balanced diversity within unity. (Equal temperament, by stark contrast, is an equipollent temperament going AGAINST the diverse and organic nature of tonal music; and it therefore forces gesturally-aware performers to work much harder than should be necessary to bring out the music clearly, to overcome the severe handicap of equipollent intonation.)
Anyway, check the list archives to see the use of those terms here. (I'm copying this to both BachCantatas and BachRecordings since the two terms "gestural" and "equipollent" have been used extensively on both.)
Richard Taruskin in Text and Act used a similar contrast of "vitalist" and "geometric". "Vitalist" is an emphasis on diversity (the moment-by-moment adventure stemming from local meaning of musical phrases, for example, the way Pablo Casals played: and all fit back into natural-sounding and emotional-sounding longer phrases and paragraphs). "Geometric" is an emphasis on equipollent consistency especially in meter (for example, in many of Christopher Hogwood's performances). I recommend also David Blum's book Casals and the Art of Interpretation where all this is shown in hundreds of musical examples.
John Pike wrote (June 21, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I would also recommend you check out an e mail Brad wrote on this list many months ago in which he listed some of the many ways in which a player (especially harpsichordist, I think) can introduce gestural elements into a performance. It was a very long list!
Continue on Part 10
Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works - General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16