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Part 2

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Bach's German Pronunciation

Continue of discussion from: John Eliot Gardiner - General Discussions Part 10 [Performers]

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 28, 2006):
Benedikt Bensch wrote:
< I'm a german native speaker from Austria and I have this CD, too. I can reassure you that Finley's german is close to perfect. Perhaps it's his timbre that makes you doubt, but from the purely phonetic point of view to me it seems really lawless. >
I'm curious to know if there has been any attempt by German-speaking scholars to reconstruct what historical pronunciation Bach would have expected from his singers.

Did the Saxon accent sound the same as today or has there been change? (as there has been in many other languages?) If there was change in the 16th & 17th centuries (as there was in England), did church choirs preserve an old-fashioned church pronunciation? (as happened in Spain). Does an older orthography indicate a different pronunciation? (genung vs. genug)

I was always coached that actors and singers in classsic repertoires should use Bühnendeutsch, the standardized High German which corresponds to the stage English adopted by the RSC and Stratford for Shakespeare. It is common practice among choirs to adopt historical national pronunciations in singing Latin: the Tallis Choir of Toronto recently sang the Victoria "Requiem" which opened with the pronunciation, "Reh-kee-em".

We can reconstruct Bach's pronunciation of Latin, but I wonder if there has been scholarship on reconstructing his German.

Raymond Joly wrote (October 28, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
"I'm curious to know if there has been any attempt by German-speaking scholars to reconstruct what historical pronunciation Bach would have expected from his singers. Did the Saxon accent sound the same as today or has there been change? [...] Does an older orthography indicate a different pronunciation (genung vs. genug)? I was always coached that actors and singers in classic repertoires should use Bühnendeutsch, the standardized High German which corresponds to the stage English adopted by the RSC and Stratford for Shakespeare. It is common practice among choirs to adopt historical national pronunciations in singing Latin: the Tallis Choir of Toronto recently sang the Victoria "Requiem" which opened with the pronunciation, "Reh-kee-em". We can reconstruct Bach's pronunciation of Latin, but I wonder if there has been scholarship on reconstructing his German."
As a person who edits cantatas by Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) for singers and program notes, I would be grateful to anybody with answers to Cowling's questions, especially if they address the problem in general, not just for Bach. My Christoph was born in Saxony, spent three years of his youth at the Hamburg opera and for the rest of his life served the landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt, setting texts by a theologian who never wandered far from Darmstadt.

The current procedure modernizes spelling but takes care to change neither grammar nor pronunciation. We want to hear what the composer expected to hear. This is quite unproblematic in a number of instances. For instance, "entzeucht, fleucht" is readily understood as obsolete for entzieht, flieht. But the matter can be trickier.

1) The rule about respecting grammar will lead you to print things most readers will construe as proof of your ignorance or carelessness. "In neu verklärten Flor" instead of verklärtem, a perfectly normal dative singular in 1720, is intolerable today; so is die wunderbare Wege Gottes instead of wunderbaren. Some dann's and wenn's instead of denn and wann, or vice versa, will also be deemed suspicious.

2) Though German orthography is by no means as awful as the French or English, it is nevertheless sufficiently remote from phonetic truthfulness to allow for spelling to change in the course of history without the sound changing, and inversely the sounds to change while the spelling remains the same.

3) And then consensus on a standard Hochsprache was reached much later in the German speaking countries than in France and, if I am not mistaken, Spain, England or even Italy. Dialects are retreating, but far from dead, and have left enduring traces.

As a particularly cumbersome result of those factors for musicians, the distinction between rounded and unrounded vowels and diphthongs (ü/i, ö/e, eu/ai) is hardly observed, if at all, in many regions even today, even among educated people (a similar case is provided by the confusion between voiced and voiceless plosives in many parts of Germany, Saxony among others: Papst/Bapst, etc.). One had to wait until the middle of the 19th century for poets to become strict in that matter.

When people make no distinction between rounded and unrounded, usually it is süß, Hölle and Freude that sound like "sieß", "Helle" and "Fraide", but the opposite obtains in other parts. For a friend of mine, a highly educated person, brought up in Naumburg, pears are "Bürnen"; and see Buddenbrooks.

Thence arise a number of spellings that cannot be taken at face value. For instance, dutifully copying Hülfe/Schilfe instead of the normal modern Hilfe defeats its purpose: the singer who takes care to differentiate and produces a beautiful ü-sound in the first word ruins a rhyme, and probably the very rhyme the poet wished to hear. No problem: write Hilfe and append a Kritischer Bericht. But then you hit upon Glücke/Blicke, scheiden/Freuden, gehn/schön, and you will not get the intended rhyme without resorting to pronunciations that definitely do not belong to standard Hochdeutsch anymore and consequently will sound inappropriately homely and colloquial -- if not indeed laughable and loutish. Wholesale modernizing results in another set of distortions.

Editors of poetry have long made up their minds about that, and actors too. Nobody corrects Goethe, Schiller and Heine, so that many of their lines do not rhyme at all anymore though they obviously purported to. I think editors and performers of vocal music have a more difficult task set before them, simply because the sung vowels, on account of their duration, impinge much more strongly on the ear.

Benedikt Bensch wrote (October 28, 2006):
As I can't contribute to this issue due to my lack of expertise, I just want to thank you for this extremly interesting insight into your work!

I'm very interested in these matters (but not in a scientific way.. it's all a matter of time :-) and I hope this discussion will go on, providing new informations on the topic.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 29, 2006):
Bach's German Pronunciation

On January 29, 2006, Randy Lane wrote:
>>I was excited when volume 19 of the Gardiner cycle arrived last week. I immediately listened to BWV 3 "Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid", one of my 10 favorites. I was impressed, though I think I still prefer Harnoncourt and Suzuki. The Bass aria "Empich Hollenangst und Pein" sung by Gerald Finley is typical of my one quibble with Gardiner's recordings. The quibble is that Finley (and many of the other solists), to my ears at least, sounds decidedly more British than German.[.] Do any of you others hear that too?<<

On October 28, 2006, Benedikt Bensch ("bartokdavis") wrote:
>>I'm a German native speaker from Austria and I have this CD, too. I can reassure you that Finley's German is close to perfect. Perhaps it's his timbre that makes you doubt, but from the purely phonetic point of view to me it seems really flawless.<<

On October 28, 2006, Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>I'm curious to know if there has been any attempt by German-speaking scholars to reconstruct what historical pronunciation Bach would have expected from his singers.
Did the Saxon accent sound the same as today or has there been change? [.] I was always coached that actors and singers in classic repertoires should use Bühnendeutsch, the standardized High German which corresponds to thestage English adopted by the RSC and Stratford for Shakespeare. [.]We can recoBach's pronunciation of Latin, but I wonder if there has been scholarship on reconstructing his German.<<

On October 28, 2006, Raymond Joly wrote:
>>As a particularly cumbersome result of those factors for musicians, the distinction between rounded and unrounded vowels and diphthongs (ü/i, ö/e, eu/ai) is hardly observed, if at all, in many regions even today, even among educated people (a similar case is provided by the confusion between voiced and voiceless plosives in many parts of Germany, Saxony among others: Papst/Bapst, etc.). One had to wait until the middle of the 19th century for poets to become strict in that matter.
When people make no distinction between rounded and unrounded, usually it is süß, Hölle and Freude that sound like "sieß", "Helle" and "Fraide", but the opposite obtains in other parts. For a friend of mine, a highly educated person, brought up in Naumburg, pears are "Bürnen"; and see Buddenbrooks.<<

The main questions here seem to want to ascertain which standards of German pronunciation should be adhered to by those who sing Bach's German texts. As Doug Cowling pointed out, the best reference for German pronunciation is a standard "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch" devoid of "Umgangssprache" (colloquial language/speech) which reflects various regional and dialect forms and sounds that are not 'standard' everywhere throughout German-speaking regions and countries.

The standard reference work still being used today to establish the norms of German pronunciation is the "Deutsche Hochsprache" by Theodor Siebs which appeared in its first edition in 1898. However, before this date there were many earlier efforts to reach a common consensus on what these norms should be. These go way back to the beginning of the 17th century at least. This was a time when the appearance of "Sprachgesellschaften" ("language societies") in various parts of Germany played a major role in defining and upholding through good examples the highest ideals of German pronunciation, spellings, and word forms. Many excellent Baroque poets in Germany, among them some noted for their chorale text poetry, were among the greatest supporters and proponents of these language societies. As can easily be imagined, these language societies were effective only within restricted regions and among those with a higher education. As the use of Latin at the universities diminished more and more, the need for a standard form of German free of dialect or the influence of regional dialect on speech/pronunciation became obligatory for educated discourse. Unfortunately, without the existence of actual recordings from the 17th and 18th century, it is difficult to ascertain precisely just how successful the efforts along these lines were. The Enlightenment also required of German language and speech a greater clarity that needed to be defined. Thus it is not at all surprising that someone like Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700-1766) would appear on the scene (primarily in Leipzig) and have an effect that extended widely to various parts of Germany very similar to the influence that Luther had upon the German language with his translation of the Bible.

With Bach, specifically in regard to his tenure in Leipzig, a rather powerful influence which would have kept Bach's librettists and Bach himself from becoming very provincial in pronunciation of German and the use of dialect forms, is the influence of the University of Leipzig. [This does not mean that Bach refused to speak in a Saxon dialect - we know that he even enjoyed setting a dialect cantata to music.] During Bach's tenure, Johann Christoph Gottsched founded the "Deutschübende poetische Gesellschaft" and was elected its "Senior" in 1726. In 1727 it was renamed "Deutsche Gesellschaft". Although its influence was greatest in all the activities at the university, it certainly also affected how the pastors delivered sermons, how professors delivered their lectures, and how the texts of the cantatas were sung. While the common laborers and farmers would still speak a Saxon dialect, and some would attempt to use a colloquial language ("Umgangssprache") still heavily influenced by sounds typical in the region, I personally suspect that educated inhabitants of Leipzig, however, spoke a normative type of German relatively, if not completely, free of dialect distortions. In this respect Leipzig appears to stand quite apart from many other university cities in Germany at that time. Particularly on the stage (plays, operas) and in church (cantatas sung in German), there would be an observance of the rules of better pronunciation which later became known as "Bühnendeutsch" ("stage German"). Goethe, who studied in Leipzig and certainly felt this influence there, later wrote in his "Regeln für Schauspieler" ("Rules/Guidelines for Actors") (1803):

"Wenn mitten in einer tragischen Rede sich ein Provinzialismus eindrängt, so wird die schönste Dichtung verunstaltet und das Gehör des Zuschauers beleidigt. Daher ist das Erste und Notwendigste für den sich bildenden Schauspieler, daß er sich von allen Fehlern des Dialekts befreie und eine vollständige, reine Aussprache zu erlangen suche. Kein Provinzialismus taugt auf die Bühne. Dort herrsche nur die reine deutsche Mundart, wie sie durch Geschmack, Kunst und Wissenschaft ausgebildet und verfeinert worden."

("If a colloquialism (one using word forms and sounds of a regional, local dialect) slips in/intrudes upon a speech/monologue in a tragedy, then the most beautiful poetry is distorted and the sensitive ears of the listener/spectator are insulted. This is why the first and foremost thing [objective] for an actor in training is that he free himself of errors caused by dialect and that he seek to achieve a complete [complete in regard to what is required in an artistic presentation] and pure [free of any recognizable dialect] pronunciation. No provincialism [again, any hint of influence from regional dialect forms or pronunciation] is suitable for the stage. Let only the pure, German 'dialect' [manner of speech] prevail [on stage], a type of German which has been formed and refined by good taste, art, and science/scholarship.")

I think that Gottsched would have held similar views on this matter and that it was mandatory that the pronunciation of the German language which emanated from the pulpit and choir loft in the churches where Bach performed his music would have had to meet the stringent requirements of a 'purified' form of German without remnants of dialect forms or locally-colored pronunciations being heard. It should be remembered that the singing members of Bach's choirs, particularly the soloists, were highly educated. Most of them, as they performed Bach's music, were still attending the University of Leipzig and hearing the best possible German being spoken there. These performing members were not church choir volunteers representing all walks of life who happened to have some vocal abilities but otherwise worked as cooks, bakers, grocers, but rather individuals with a higher education that set them apart from all the rest.

My answer to Doug Cowling would be to attempt to sing the German in Bach's texts as he had been doing all along: base the pronunciation on Sieb's "Deutsche Hochsprache" and make certain that any dialect influences or vocal distortions, as small as they may be, are avoided or eliminated as far as this is possible.

In reference to Randy Lane's observation and question: Gerald Finley's pronunciation of German in singing his part in the Gardiner recording of BWV 3 is excellent "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch" and cannot be faulted. I concur with Benedikt Bensch's appraisal of this matter. Personally, I would be careful about generalizing about singers native to the German language and those 'who were not born into it'. While the preponderance of nativGerman speakers who sing German cantata texts (in the cantata recordings discussed on this list) will tend to do quite well in their own language, as might be suspected at first [Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau comes to mind here], there are some who nevertheless fail to achieve the required high standard of "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch". Barbara Schlick, whose recorded performance of BWV 115/4 under Coin was recently discussed on this list, is an example of a native German who has difficulties distinguishing between the main, accented vowels of 'bete' and 'bitte'. Here the standard of "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch" is not being followed. This is inexcusable, above all when one considers that a non-native German speaker, Arleen Augér does not demonstrate any of these difficulties. To analyze and present possible reasons why this situation exists would make this message become even lengthier than it now is. In short, however, I suggest the following possibilities:

1) Schlick is more careless in her pronunciation in singing a Bach text than a foreigner might be under similar circumstances. The foreigner (Augér, for instance), particularly one with a good musical ear, learns to become more sensitive to the fine phonetic distinctions necessary in a foreign language, distinctions that need to be mastered with special attention to what the result sounds like to a listener.

2) Sopranos, more than most other voice ranges, are faced with some particular/peculiar problems with vowel formation. In seeking to modify and change certain notes, often in the higher range, which without sufficient vocal training and control would either 'stand out' or 'not sound beautiful enough', Schlick (as well as many other sopranos) will feel it necessary to 'distort' the sound through various techniques to make it 'fit' better and produce a better sound (production of 'head-tones', etc.). If this is not done carefully enough with a coach or an objective listener to judge the end result, the distortion may involve a modification of the vowel sound that shifts the phonetic distinction (and hence the attached meaning of the word in which this vowel sound occurs) from being one word (like 'beten') to another (like 'bitten'). Even with the key vowel extended on a long note (as in BWV 115/4), the listener must be able to distinguish between these two significant variants. This is not always the case with Schlick in her recording of this aria.

In summary:

Disregarding all other factors of singing and concentrating alone on the adherence to "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch", Finley's German in singing Bach is better than Schlick's.

and

It seems reasonable to assume that Bach's soloists and choirs in Leipzig, Germany performed his works with what would have been considered the best possible pronunciation of German available at that time in all the regions and countries which were German-speaking. This situation is quite different from the one which needs to consider how these same singers would have sung Latin.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 29, 2006):
Benedikt Bensch wrote:
< As I can't contribute to this issue due to my lack of expertise, I >just want to thank you for this extremly interesting insight into your work! >
"Bensch" a.k.a. Benedikt has just contributed by his names. Yiddish eschews "segnen" inasmuch at it < Latin signare "make the sign (of the cross) and rather uses "benshen" which itself < Italian-Latin benedice(re) with the /c/ pronounced as in Italian. Thus we have the odd situation of Yiddish using the Italian word rather
than the German word. This is obviously known to our "Bensch"/Benedikt.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 29, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The main questions here seem to want to ascertain which standards of German pronunciation should be adhered to by those who sing Bach¹s German texts. As Doug Cowling pointed out, the best reference for German pronunciation is a standard ³Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch² devoid of ³Umgangssprache² (colloquial language/speech) which reflects various regional and dialect forms and sounds that are not Ostandard¹ everywhere throughout German-speaking regions and countries. >
Actually, I didn't say this. I said that most contemporary artists adhere to the standardized German pronunciation which is the result of the centralizing push for uniformity prized by academicians in the 19th century in all European countries.

My question was whether we are able to step over the 19th century and ascertain what the Saxon accent was like in 18th century Leipzig. Just as Bach wrote for certain instrumental sounds, he certainly wrote for certain phonetic sounds. When Bach corrected the diction of his singers, he probably asked for uniformity to the Saxon dialect. Even then, the question remains whether choirs used an old-fashioned Church German out of deference to the 16th century texts of Luther (the persistence of older pronunciations is documented in both Spain and England).

Linguistic historians tend to look at rhymes to reconstruct pronunciation systems and what we often view as assonance are in fact identical sounds. For instance, in the late 16th century, "reason/raison" was pronounced the same as "raisin", which allowed the Bard to pun on wisemen being as common as dried fruit. In modern productions, the pun is lost because the two words are pronounced differently.

I suspect that the reconstructed German pronunciation of Bach would be resisted by artists who want to use the same diction for Schubert and Wagner. The historical pronunciation of Shakespeare sounds like an evening in a West Country pub or a Virginia out-island town meeting.

Benedikt Bensch wrote (October 29, 2006):
As I mentioned yesterday, I've no idea about these matters, but I just wanted to throw in some thoughts.

I guess that before the invention print it was impossible to create something like Hochdeutsch for all german speaking people in Europe, obviously. Due to the diffusion of printed media fivehundred years ago it's logical that the first thing to be standarized was the written language. The problem is, that talking about the development of the German from indogermanic to Neuhochdeutsch (~1650) we are just talking about the written German.

What I continue to ask me is: how could it have been possible to cultivate something like "Bühnendeutsch" or Hochdeutsch 500 years ago in the rather big region like "Germany", Austria, Switzerland.Which sound is attributed to a certain letter is just a matter of definition (or consense), so I think it's much likelier that people in the different regions just read the same text in a different way, everybody in the own dialect.

For example, one of the most influential books in this matter was Luther's translation of the bible. Luther was saxon like sure and I'm quite sure that he must have read his texts in Saxon. And: Still at the end of the 18th(!) century, at least that's stated by wikipedia
(http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aussprache_der_deutschen_Sprache), the saxon dialect was regarded as exemplary due to Saxony's politic power.The birth of Bühnendeutsch happened 100 years later after saxon's model role has been surpassed by northern dialects which became more influential.

So I can really imagine the possibility that Bach's german, even sung in church, sounded a bit different from today's.

Perhaps my conclusions are all wrong as they aren't based on facts but on drawn conclusions. But I think it could be interesting do dig a bit deeper into this issue....

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (October 29, 2006):
Benedikt Bensch wrote:
< The problem is, that talking about the development of the German from indogermanic to Neuhochdeutsch (~1650) we are just talking about the written German. >
Very odd thing that the Germans use the term Indogermanisch while most other languages refer to this hypothetical parenlanguage as Indo-European. The great Indo-Europeaninst Holger Pedersen in his 1938 seminal book Hittitisch und die anderen indoeuropäishen Sprachen, published in Copenhagen, although obviously a native speaker of a Germanic language, made sure to not employ this very German(ic)-centric term and employed the more European term. I once made the natural error of referring to his book as Hittitisch und die anderen Indogermanischen Sprachen. His ghost came after me.

Sorry,

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 30, 2006):
I have incorrectly summarized Doug Cowling's
statement:
"I was always coached that actors and singers in classic repertoires should use Bühnendeutsch, the standardized High German...."
by stating:
"As Doug Cowling pointed out, the best reference for German pronunciation is a standard ³Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch²...."
Sorry about that. Next time I will quote directly to avoid such confusion.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 30, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>When Bach corrected the diction of his singers, he probably asked for uniformity to the Saxon dialect.<<
Why would he do this? Variations of the Saxon dialect would have been heard throughout the area within which Bach mainly traveled (exluding Lüneburg, Hamburg, Lübeck, and Berlin). But there would be no reason for Bach to enforce pronunciations based upon any one of the localized variants of a dialect, even the one common to Leipzig. As I had pointed out, Leipzig as a university city had a much greater influence upon a higher standard of language free of local inflections and phonetic anomalies than anything which a king could mandate or even expect from his populace that they should emulate. Travelers, many of them highly educated because they wanted to see and buy new books, came from far and wide to visit the Leipzig Fairs. Students, like Goethe a few decades late, came from distant cities where very different dialects were spoken, and did not expect to hear or learn how to speak a variant of a Saxon dialect which they would never use once they returned to their homes or took positions elsewhere. Their expectations of a dialect-free German would be fulfilled in various places as they made contact with the intellectuals who resided in Leipzig. Even their discussions in the coffee houses would most likely not have resembled those found in a pub milieu where the stagecoach drivers assembled, just as the sermons and figural music in the churches also would not have sounded tinged by Saxon dialect as they might have been in the many small-town and rural churches of Saxony. Since the musical expectations were of a very high niveau (compared to the rest of Saxony with perhaps the slight exception of Dresden, which, however, did not have an important university), the use of an elevated standard of spoken German would have been in order for all these occasions including the singing of Bach's sacred music.

Gottsched, a non-Saxon, born in Königsberg, fled conscription into the Prussian army by coming to Leipzig and establishing himself as one very concerned about every aspect of language (relatively soon becoming a professor at the university there). With professors such as Gottsched attending church, Bach would certainly have had a difficult time trying to tell his soloists who must have been quite wise to the world about them to revert to localized dialect pronunciation of the texts (which probably would have made their performances even more difficult to understand for the many visitors who also happened to be attending church).

Alain Bruguières wrote (October 30, 2006):
Thanks to Thomas for this interesting contribution. I have a few naive questions, being totally ignorant of german historical dialectology.

Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Leipzig as a university city had a much greater influence upon a higher standard of language free of local inflections and phonetic anomalies than anything which a king could mandate or even expect from his populace that they should emulate. Travelers, many of them highly educated because they wanted to see and buy new books, came from far and wide to visit the Leipzig Fairs. Students, like Goethe a few decades late, came from distant cities where very different dialects were spoken, and did not expect to hear or learn how to speak a variant of a Saxon dialect which they would never use once they returned to their homes or took positions elsewhere. Their expectations of a dialect-free German would be fulfilled in various places as they made contact with the intellectuals who resided in Leipzig. >
It seems to me that there is no such thing as a 'dialect-free' language. Every language, provided it is spread over a reasonable large territory (and this certainly applies to German) develops in time local variations called
dialects. Now it also happens that, due to the prestige of a certain social group in a certain area, one particular dialect (or rather one particular sociolect of one particular dialect) acquires such prestige that it becomes a 'norm' (i. e. it becomes acknowledged as a desirable manner of speaking and writing by a substantial number of people). Such a norm having emerged, certain groups of people from other areas and other social strata try to imitate this 'prestige form' - at least in certain social circumstances, a process which may eventually lead to marginalization and even extinction of other dialects, and uniformization of pronunciation (such is almost the case now in France). In Germany (as in Great Britain), I believe that local dialects, and even more so, local accents, do survive to this day.

So my question is, what would have been a 'prestige form' of German in Bach's time? Was such a norm already established? Based on what dialect? Was there only one such form, or were there several competing 'prestige forms'? To what extent were this or these prestige form ackowledged as norms by the general population?

I would have thought that, in Bach's time, there were influential people in Germany who thought that the only prestigious form of language was the French language... is this a french myth, or is it correct (and to what extent)?

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 30, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I once made the natural error of referring to his book as Hittitisch und die anderen Indogermanischen Sprachen. His ghost came after me. >
Ghost or Geist?

Tom Hens wrote (October 30, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< Very odd thing that the Germans use the term Indogermanisch while most other languages refer to this hypothetical parent language as Indo-European. The great Indo-Europeaninst Holger Pedersen in his 1938 seminal book Hittitisch und die anderen indoeuropäishen Sprachen, published in Copenhagen, although obviously a native speaker of a Germanic language, made sure to not employ this very German(ic)-centric term and employed the more European term. >
I believe (well, actually, I was taught at university) that the only thing that happened is that the term "Indo-Germanic" (and cognates in other languages) became so tainted by the Nazi use of "Germanic" as a racist term from the 1930's onwards that non-Nazi and non-German linguists generally replaced it with the more neutral "Indo-European" (and cognates). Remember, "Aryan" also started out as a perfectly respectable descriptive term for exactly the same group of languages. The racist interpretation followed later (there are 'Aryan' languages, and 'Semitic' languages, therefore there must Aryan and Semitic 'races').

Tom Hens wrote (October 30, 2006):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
< It seems to me that there is no such thing as a 'dialect-free' language. Every language, provided it is spread over a reasonable large territory (and thiscertainly applies to German) develops in time local variations called dialects. >
You've got it completely backwards. Dialects aren't local variations that develop from one standardized language. Everybody always speaks a dialect. Across a group of related dialects, over time a certain variant, mostly based on the dialects that are spoken in the region that is politically/economically/culturally dominant, and within that region among people in the ruling classes, emerges as the "language", the socially agreed-upon standard. In regions that have had centralised political control for a long time, such as France or England, it's usually simpler. Standard French is based on the dialects spoken around Paris, the Ile de France. Standard English is based on the dialects spoken in the South-East of England. For places like Germany or Italy, it's a bit more complicated. The best definition of "language" is still the rather flippant one from a linguist whose name for some reason I can never remember: A language is a dialect with an army and a navy. "Languages" are historical and political constructs. To name some very obvious examples: A hugely divergent conglomerate of dialects like Chinese is considered one language. Extremely closely related dialects that are completely mutually intelligible, like Czech and Slovak, or Danish and Norwegian, are considered two separate languages. There are no linguistic reasons for this, only political and historical ones.

<snip>
< Such a norm having emerged, certain groups of people from other areas and other social strata try to imitate this 'prestige form' - at least in certain social circumstances, a process which may eventually lead to marginalization and even extinction of other dialects, and uniformization of pronunciation (such is almost the case now in France). >
I know you live in France and are a native speaker, and I'm not, but simply based on what I can hear from native speakers of French on French state television (and that's already imposing a pretty heavy filter on "non-standard" forms of French), that's anything but the case.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 30, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< I know you live in France and are a native speaker, and I'm not, but simply based on what I can hear from native speakers of French on French state television (and that's already imposing a pretty heavy filter on "non-standard" forms of French), that's anything but the case. >
I lived in Aix-en-Provence for a year and after a couple of glasses of Pastis you heard a Midi accent that has nothing to do with the academies of Louis XIV and Napoleon.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 30, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Why would he do this? Variations of the Saxon dialect would have been heard throughout the area within which Bach mainly traveled (exluding Lüneburg, Hamburg, Lübeck, and Berlin). But there would be no reason for Bach to enforce pronunciations based upon any one of the localized variants of a dialect, even the one common to Leipzig. As I had pointed out, Leipzig as a university city had a much greater influence upon a higher standard of language free of local inflections and phonetic anomalies than anything which a king could mandate or even expect from his populace that they should emulate. >
I don't believe there could have been a Standard German Pronunciation at the this stage in history to which Bach could appeal or even that he spoke himself. There was no real developed nationalist consciousness that would have held a unified German language to be an ideal to be taught in a choir school. Any academic schemes for standardization developing at the university would not have had significant influence on the way in which liturgical German was spoken and sung. If anything, it is more likely that ecclesiastics would have prefered a more old-fashioned pronunciation because of its connection with Luther and the German Bible. The people of Leipzig didn't think of themselves as speaking a dialect deviant from some national ideal: they spoke and sang in church in the same fashion as they spoke and sang in educated middle classe homes and businesses. The diction of a cantata under Bach's direction certainly sounded different than the modern Bühnendeutsch which we hear in performances of his music today and in that of Mozart, Schubert, Wagner, Wolff and Weill.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 30, 2006):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
>>It seems to me that there is no such thing as a 'dialect-free' language. Every language, provided it is spread over a reasonable large territory (and this certainly applies to German) develops in time local variations called dialects.<<
Are you referring here to dialects as spoken and often even written/published languages that are clearly distinguishable in the choice of words as well as the type of pronunciation they use from other usually adjacent regions and that all of these dialects share a basic set of common characteristics to set them off from other main language groups? Or do you refer here to the ever so subtle phonetic variations in a recognized language that is used in a large area, a language that has a common vocabulary and which abides by certain grammatical rules? I am assuming the latter for this discussion of the German pronunciation probably used in the performance of Bach's sacred music under his direction in Leipzig. In my discussion I have attempted to concentrate on the latter without being distracted by variant, older spellings of certain words which had not been firmly fixed during Bach's lifetime: "itzt" is now spelled and pronounced as "jetzt". This is not really a dialect form since
you will find Mattheson in North Germany using this older spelling (and very likely pronunciation as well) the same way that Bach and his librettists do in Leipzig. I do not find the distinction between Bach's use of "genung" and present-day "genug" sufficiently meaningful and different to create a big fuss over it. A singer using standard "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch" should have no problem singing this either way and still have the audience understand clearly what is meant. It makes no sense to attribute a form like this to the Saxon dialect since it ["genung"] has been fairly wide-spread through other regions as well. It is simply a form of the word "genug" which was slowly dying out.

Two main reasons why "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch" is to be preferred over any possible dialect influences which cause known, existing words to sound differently through various distortions and exaggerations (nasalization, coarse fricatives, vocalization of consonants, etc., etc.,) are:

1. Dialect variations make it more difficult for those not speaking the dialect to understand quickly and precisely what is being stated. The advice Goethe gave his actors/actresses in 1803 can still be applied today: any regional differences (this includes saying recognizable words with a regional/dialect accent) should not be noticeable to an audience. Such noticeable influences are distracting and even amount to an insult to the ears of a listener who wishes to concentrate on word content including the ideas, thoughts, emotions which they evoke. Imagine anyone with a false sense of historical accuracy hiring a singer to sing Bach's sacred music with a pronunciation of the text reflecting what is typical for a Saxon dialect speaker! Singers are sufficiently challenged by Bach's music without adding such an illogical encumbrance to an already difficult situation.

2. From the standpoint of speech hygiene, "Hochdeutsch/Bühnendeutsch" is better for the voice as it allows it to make optimal use of the speech organs without stressing the voice unnecessarily. This is not true for the type of pronunciation often found in various German dialects. The onset of hoarseness and the strainiof the voice appear much more quickly in a voice professionally delivering a speech or singing in a large auditorium or church when the voice is required to use or naturally falls back upon speech habits derived from using dialect sounds. The endurance of the voice is hampered by such dialect influences. This has little or nothing to do with actually using dialect words which can be unrecognizable to anyone not familiar with the dialect, but rather relates to the type of sound production used in speaking in a dialect.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 30, 2006):
OT [was Bach's German Pronunciation]

Alain Bruguières wrote:
< It seems to me that there is no such thing as a 'dialect-free' language. >
First, an explanation. It is my intent to make brief citations and responses, especially to topics which are out of the weekly music thread. I realize that quotes out of context have the potential to create misunderstandings. Which are easily sorted out, with further communications. I don't know if I am being efficient, but I am comfortable with my effort.

I am also comfortable with my Boston dialect, one of the most distinct (if not distinguished) in the USA, perhaps the entire planet (ours, No. 3 of 8, at recent count). There are several world class composers in Boston, most have set texts written in English, even some texts by Boston writers. I get the opportunity to chat after performances of their music (a privilege in itself), and I can assure you that they would be horrified (or bemused) if anyone tried to perform their compositions with a Boston dialect.

Unless specifically requested in the score. I cannot say it has never happened, but unknown to me. It would require a note such as <Sing with Boston USA dialect, early 21st Cent. (CE)> Whaddaya tahkin aboud?

I have just come from a concert of contemporary music, including settings of texts by Shakespeare, American poets, Lewis Carroll, and the Song of Solomon (in Hebrew). I was happy to have printed texts provided (as did Bach's congregations), otherwise I would have found it difficult to catch many of the words, and the continuity . Welcome translation was provided for the Hebrew, the sound was gorgeous! The singers were all from Boston (including Pamela Dellal in Song of Solomon, whose name you may recognize as the Emmanuel Music translator (and singer) of Bach Cantatas). None sang with a Boston dialect, as best I could tell. We talk funny, but when it comes to music, we put our hearts into it!

Bonjour, Alain. I enjoyed our humorous exchanges earlier in the year about frog soup (as I recall), a wonderful anecdote for the translation thread sometime. By coincidence, one of today's Lewis Carroll texts included <Beautiful soup, so rich and green>. Recipe not further specified (other than the line <Who cares for fish?>). No reptiles, I suspect. Enchanting music by Irving Fine (despite the nonsense words).

Fine founded the Music Dept. at Brandeis Univ. He titled another piece <Serious Song>, in case anyone might misjudge. He died early, in his creative prime, but still managed a significant legacy of compositions, in addition to the administrative challenges of founding an academic department (no direct experience on my part, but some of you may empathize). We get an annual concert in his memory, courtesy of Brandeis.

Good work with the introductions, Alain and previous!

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 30, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Imagine anyone with a false sense of historical accuracy hiring a singer to sing Bach¹s sacred music with a pronunciation of the text reflecting what is typical for a Saxon dialect speaker! Singers are sufficiently challenged by Bach¹s music without adding such an illogical encumbrance to an already difficult situation. >
This is precisely what we should be considering! If we are building instruments on historical principles which "speak" the way Bach intended them, then we should consider reconstructing the phonetic sounds of his singers. Goethe's 1803 advice is to artists who lived in a different world half a century later. I would really like to hear what Bach's Saxon Evangelists sounded like in the Passions . I'm sure they did not sound like Prussian academics in the 19th century.

Ed Myskowski wrote (October 30, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< If we are building instruments on historical principles which "speak" the way Bach intended them, then we should consider reconstructing the phonetic sounds of his singers. Goethe's 1803 advice is to artists who lived in a different world half a century later. I would really like to hear what Bach's Saxon Evangelists sounded like in the Passions . I'm sure they did not sound like Prussian academics in the 19th century. <
As penance for some of my less serious comments, I believe this states the case precisely. But consider is the operative word. How do we recover or reconstruct the sound of Bach's Saxon evangelists? Nevertheless, not to say we should not keep the ideal objective in mind.

Someone may write to ask how you can be so sure they did not sound like Prussian academics? But it won't be me.

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 30, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>There was no real developed nationalist consciousness that would have held a unified German language to be an ideal to be taught in a choir school.<<
>>If anything, it is more likely that ecclesiastics would have prefered a more old-fashioned pronunciation because of its connection with
Luther and the German Bible.<<
It is a known fact that Luther, in his translation of the Bible into German, deliberately included certain variant word forms from more distant dialects (not his own regional dialect from Middle German) such as Low German (Low German was the standard language of the Hanseatic League and there were at least a dozen or more translations of the Bible into that language before Luther's own). If the educated populace in Leipzig during Bach's time understood what Luther had really accomplished by not directing his translation only to those who spoke his dialect or near variant thereof, then these professors, pastors, lawyers, university students and pre-university students in Leipzig would have found support for their removal of the trappings of localized, regional influences on a form of standard German which they hoped would represent a much wider region encompassing educated speakers from all the different German dialects existing in 'German'-speaking countries. The exchange of ideas (the use of Latin at the universities was decreasing rapidly and was being supplanted by German) and the furthering of commercial interests (the Leipzig Fairs) as well would naturally cause educated speakers and writers to move away from localized, Saxon dialect forms being used to a common German language free of any dialect inflections and sounds. Finding a common base which would appeal to a much larger region is what Luther as a language innovator was all about. In order to create a truly accessible translation of the Bible, Luther went out to the common people on the street (who naturally spoke the regional dialect) to listen to their speech patterns (word choice, syntax, etc.) but he did not record through the odd spellings of words sounds reflecting the local dialects he heard. Due to this amazing feat on Luther's part but then in retrospect later viewed with dismay by him, plagiarized printings of Luther's Bible translations began appearing along the Rhein in regions which spoke dialects very different from those Luther had experienced. Following in Luther's footsteps, the educated class of Leipzigers realized that Luther's goal was not to preserve the local dialects of W, Erfurt, Eisenach, etc. but rather to find a higher common language that the greatest number of German speakers and readers could understand without hearing or coming upon strange words and sounds that would distract them from their contemplation of the text.

DC: >>The people of Leipzig didn't think of themselves as speaking a dialect deviant from some national ideal<<
Only the lowest classes of people in Leipzig may not have encountered and engaged in speaking with the many visitors from more distant regions who stayed in Leipzig. The middle and upper classes would have been quite conscious of the differences between their own local dialect and the type of German spoken by these visitors or by many who came a great distance to Leipzig to study at the university. In seeking a common ground between individuals of differing dialect backgrounds, it would be necessary for such individuals to abandon the words and sounds which set them apart while trying, on the other hand, to find what they had in common.

DC: >>they spoke and sang in church in the same fashion as they spoke and sang in educated middle classe homes and businesses.<<
Here we are losing sight of the difference between an ordinary conversation on the street and an educated discourse, a lecture, a sermon, or a cantata performance where a higher level of language is expected.

Alain Bruguières wrote (October 30, 2006):
Alain Bruguières wrote:
<< It seems to me that there is no such thing as a 'dialect-free' language. Every language, provided it is spread over a reasonable large territory (and this certainly applies to German) develops in time local variations called dialects. >>
Tom Hens wrote:
< You've got it completely backwards. Dialects aren't local variations that develop from one standardized language. >
Strange that you should interpret my words this way... I never said that a standardized language pre-existed dialects! My point was precisely the opposite! Emergence of dialects is a natural linguistic process - it is the emergence of standardized forms which is to be accounted for, rather... and that was precisely my question: how did this happen in Germany, when, and what was the situation in this respect in Bach's time?

So let me reformulate the paragraph which you so misunderstood that I must have explained my thoughts in an unprecedently muddled way. Emergence of dialects is a natural linguistic process and morals, aesthetics, etc... have nothing to do with this process. Assume that a certain language is spoken over a certain 'territory'. Inevitably the language evolves, sounds change, and the grammar changes too (there's lots of things to be said about why it happens, but completely OT). According to the 'wave theory', these changes propagate through the territory from the region where they emerged. If the territory is small, so that everybody gets to speak with everybody else sooner or later (such would be the case in a small island) the language will evolve and remain geographically homogeneous. But if the territory is large enough, the 'waves' are going to affect only certain parts of the global territory, so that in general a particular linguistic innovation will affect only a particular subterritory. In time, the differences between two distant points A and B in the territory will become enough to make it difficult for a person from A and one from B to understand one another; they'll speak different dialects; if the process goes on,their descendents will speak different languages.

Dialectalisation is stonger as the territory expands. There are other forces which may reduce dialectalisation and lead to unification, those are more political than linguistic; and there is also the fact that modern techniques reduces distances (an effect not pertinent for Bach's time).

Thomas Braatz wrote (October 31, 2006):
Alain Bruguières asked:
>>I would have thought that, in Bach's time, there were influential people in Germany who thought that the only prestigious form of language was the French language... is this a French myth, or is it correct (and to what extent)?<<
My guess would be that this notion is primarily due to the influence of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, who learned a rather substandard form of French from his nanny, but to his credit spent most of his life trying to improve his command of it and learn more from some of the best representatives of French culture. His interest in the flauto traverso is one aspect of his need to emulate what was fashionable in France at the time. Much to his father's dismay, who regretted his son's interest in French, even prevented him from learning Latin, and who treated him so harshly in numerous ways, King Frederick the Great avoided as much as possible the use of German which he considered an uncultured language with no significant literature. It is stated that when he did speak German, it was in the coarse language (and probably local Prussian German dialect) of a coachman. Somewhere else I had read that he considered German mainly useful for swearing at dogs or talking to animals. If he encountered anyone being lazy or delivering a product that showed poor workmanship that he would immediately spot, he would break into German saying something like: "Scher di nach Haus, und tu was!" (which probably implied with his annoyed tone of voice and his Prussian accent something like "Get the hell out of here as quickly as possible and go home. Don't waste my time with your shoddy workmanship, but really do something right for a change!').

During Bach's lifetime, any correspondence or business with the larger royal courts in Germany was conducted in French. There is early proof of this in Bach's title-page dedication in French for the Brandenburg Concertos (March, 1721) BWV 1046-BWV 1051, but there is doubt whether he wrote this himself without any outside help. The only other significant dedication to a ruler that has survived is the famous one to accompany the Musical Offering (July 1747) BWV 1079, dedicated to none other than King Frederick the Great about whom everyone knew at that time that French would be expected. However, what does Bach do? He writes this important title page in German without having it translated into French! Perhaps this is an indication of how French was beginning to lose the important role it had been playing at various German courts at the beginning of the 18th century.

How did Leipzig conduct its city affairs while Bach was there? This was done in German, of course. To be sure, this German would include a sprinkling of French words here and there to display erudition. From this one can also assume that isolated French words/terms would appear in the speeches and conversations by educated Leipzigers, just as we see in many of Bach's documents and letters (even very personal ones like the one to his friend Erdmann in Danzig dated Oct. 28, 1730.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 31, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< The only other significant dedication to a ruler that has survived is the famous one to accompany the Musical Offering (July 1747) BWV 1079, dedicated to none other than King Frederick the Great about whom everyone knew at that time that French would be expected. However, what does Bach do? He writes this important title page in German without having it translated into French! Perhaps this is an indication of how French was beginning to lose the important role it had been playing at various German courts at the beginning of the 18th century. >
This is a fascinating thought Thomas and one which, I confess I had not hitherto noticed. However if one subscribes to the thesis of James Gaines' excellent little book 'Evening in the Palce of Reason' one might be attempted to think that Bach's reasons for not offering a French version was a further part of his subtle 'rubbing of the King's nose' in it. It may have been a deliberate snub on 's part, something he would have been unlikely to have done earlier in his career when he was actively seeking favour and preferment, but something which, at this stage he may have cared less about.

Douglas Cowling wrote (October 31, 2006):
Bach's Languages

[To Julian Mincham] I also wonder if Bach felt part of the growing nationalist consciousness of being "German" and that his German dedication was part of the emerging centralizing movement both politically and artistically.

Other than title pages in French and an Italian cantata, do we know if Bach had a working knowledge of French and Italian? I would guess that he read both, but if he seriously wanted a court position in Dresden he would have needed some verbal fluency.

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 31, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Other than title pages in French and an Italian cantata, do we know if Bach had a working knowledge of French and Italian? I would guess that he read both, but if he seriously wanted a court position in Dresden he would have needed some verbal fluency. >
Or, for that matter, how was Handel's Spanish? He wrote a Spanish-language solo cantata before age 25, where the instrumentation is continuo and guitar...and if that weren't already exotic enough, it's notated in "white notation" (flagged semibreves, etc)....

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 31, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] That would be interesting trivia actually. It's certainly true that French was the rage among many of the German states in the 18th century. Frederick (perhaps this some kind of urban myth) was supposed to have spoken German with a French accent. We know he corresponded in French on informal matters or when exchanging ideas with naive political poodles like Voltaire that were searching for the Philosopher King. (That's gratitude for you. Ducal Prussia was part of Poland and became the first Protestant state in Europe - Luther was even involved in the diplomacy. Many of the early Hohenzollerns spoke Polish as their first or second tongue.) But Saxony was in that part of Germany that always had an eye looking east. One of history's most forgotten but potentially important wars (The Great Northern War 1700-21) included Saxony as a major player. (I still think if Charles XII had played his cards right, a Swedish-Baltic confederation of some sort might have lasted for a century or even longer. That might have meant no Russia on the Baltic.) Anyway, I'm not sure whether Dresden would have been so westernized as to have had a French speaking court. I'm sure the fashions came from Paris, but you would have heard a lot of Polish. Actually, I find it very feasible that Bach could have been influenced by early German nationalism, might have been exactly the kind of thing the Leipzig University staff and students would have chatted over while keeping the local beer industry prosperous.

Peter Petzling wrote (November 1, 2006):
French Language in Berlin ( O.T.)

A few words of background re: the French language in 18th century Brandenburg/Preussen and esp. in Berlin.

The Edict of Potsdam - 29 Oct 1685 - the year of JSB's birth - provided the foundation for a sizeable influx of French Reformed refugees, Huguenots - as many as 25,000 , who continued to conduct their lives through the vehicle of the French language.They brought advanced trade and commercial skills as well as levels of learning and literacy that were in very short supply among the good denizens of Brandenburg and Berlin.

In 1689 these French 'Refugies' were granted the right to form a 'College Francais'- "Franzoesisches Gymnasium"

This school instructed initially only in French - it would later evolve into a bi-lingual institution. It remains to this day one of Berlin's premier schools. The newly chartered school became somewhat of a magnet for learned 'refugies'.There was soonan influx of French "brainpower" from exiles who had taken refuge in Zurich, Geneva, Leyden and Rotterdam.

Beyond a doubt Frederic ( "the Great" ) was drawn to some of the distinguished members of the French Huguenot community of Berlin.In March of 1736 - Crownprince Frederic- attended a Sunday sermon delivered at the French Church -Auf dem Werder - and subsequently requested a visit with the preacher - Isaac de Beausobre - a clergyman /professor who also acted as "inspecteur" at the "College Francais". This seems to have lead to recurrent visits by Frederic until the death of de Beausobre in 1738. De Beausobre was a representative of the conservative, even orthodox faction of the French community. In a letter to Count von Manteufel , Frederic wrote; "Je me range du cote de ses admirateurs" -- Upon De Beausobre's death he ventured these words; "Nous avons perdu en lui le plus grand homme de Berlin en fait de finesse d'esprit, d'erudition et de politesse..."

These remarks reveal but a slice of the fortunes of the French language in Berlin in the 18th century. For further insights I would recommend a remarkable publication - a Festschrift - entitled::

"300 Jahre Franzoesisches Gymnasium Berlin - 300 Ans Au College Francais"

Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin , 1989.

Submitted in memory of the Huguenots
31 October 2006

Chris Rowson wrote (November 1, 2006):
Language and culture

Regarding the language issue, I think it is important to recognise that for most of his life JSB was working within the realm of the Saxon Electors, particularly August the Strong (ruled 1694 - 1733). Their court was the most powerful in the German-speaking area outside the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with which they were (mostly) allied.

These rulers necessarily spoke fluent French, plus Italian and a few other languages. I don´t know what their German was like. Their court was very highly cultured, while the Prussians were in comparison militaristic upstarts.

We recently experienced the first revival in modern times of the French-style Ballet/Opera which August the Strong designed for the wedding of his son in 1719, and in which he was pleased to have all roles taken by members of his court. It is an impressive piece.

Leipzig, the 2nd city of the Electorate, was of course strongly influenced by its University, with the associated Latin, and by its trade fairs, with the associated cosmopolitanism.

Peter Smaill wrote (November 1, 2006):
[To Chris] The strand of interest here is the leading position of Leipzig as a centre of Latin scholarship.

The key German-Latin dictionary, the Thesaurus eruditionis scholasticae, was produced by the Rector of the University of nearby Erfurt, Basil Faber (1520-1575). Later editions had contributions by Andreas Stuebel, as we know from Wolff, the likely author of the texts of the second Jahrgang. We may therefore consider that Stuebel would have known Latin poetry in addition to his familiarity with the Chorale texts.

Whether there is textual evidence (in the forms and structures of the libretti) of such an influence is an open question.

Eric Bergerud wrote (November 1, 2006):
[To Chris] I guess I brought this up and I will yield to superior expertise. However, until corrected I stand by my premise. In the early 18th century, the distinction between German and Polish was just beginning to become sharp. August, of course, had spent his career obtaining the Polish crown after an astounding struggle with Charles XII and a good part of Europe. As I recall one of Bach's great cantatas was written to celebrate the death of the Lutheran queen of the Catholic court at Dresden - which was Catholic so it could it reasonamanage Poland. As far a Saxony and great power status, well, let's say they were like the Empire as a whole except much smaller. Their actual performance in power politics never matched their theoretical power and prestige. And the Saxon rulers developed an uncanny ability to pick the wrong allies. (Moltke's Prussian steamroller worked in 1866 largely because Vienna took Saxony seriously when they should have known they major ally would prove a milititary zero.) I suppose in the 1720's one might have described Prussia as a militaristic upstart. Although an upstart implies bluster or a bit of shallowness. Frederick, I'll grant was a scoundrel, but his victory over the Empire in both 1740 and 1756 (world wars both, especially the later) suggests the existence of a latent power not fully realized rather than a whimp.

I don't really know why we want to think of Bach as a "western" Enlightenment composer. I'll grant he wasn't doing Hungarian folks tunes (kind of a pity really: was real money for a host of 19th century scribblers) but it strikes me that Bach represented above all the German tradition of his ancestors. He might have been a few centuries behind the times, but there was a long period when the heart of Europe was in the German speaking lands of the Empire. Nothing to be ashamed of really. Since Luther's time, I'd put German music up against any in Europe. Perhaps Teruskin and others are right that 19th century militant German nationalism adopted Bach's legacy without asking. That said, no matter how well versed Bach was in the music of Italy and France, I think it arguable that he was above all the culmination of a wonderful musical tradition - mostly Protestant (but not all), mostly German (but not all). Bach wasn't Handel and I think we can all be glad of it.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 1, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I don't really know why we want to think of Bach as a "western" Enlightenment composer. I'll grant he wasn't doing Hungarian folks tunes (kind of a pity really: was real money for a host of 19th century scribblers) but it strikes me that Bach represented above all the German tradition of his ancestors. He might have been a few centuries behind the times, but there was a long period when the heart of Europe was in the German speaking lands of the Empire. >
I think there are two questions here.

Bach's knowledge of politics and ability to speak other languages is part of the question of whether he was seriously seeking a court position in Dresden. Recent scholarship has shown that Bach was the candidate of the "court" party in the Leipzig council, and his later interest in Catholic mass settings seems to suggest that he was preparing for a new career at a court which had both Catholic and Lutheran chapels. That's a significant aspect for us to discuss.

The other issue is less critical and part of the continuing Romantic myth of Bach. Because Bach's music is so beautiful and compelling to modern ears, many want to pluck him out of his historical context and turn him into some kind of enlightened Thomas Jefferson of music so that he has "universal appeal" which transcends his social and religious context. I find it much more interesting to struggle with the historical realities of Bach's life than perpetuate a myth.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 1, 2006):
Chris Rowson wrote:
>>Leipzig, the 2nd city of the Electorate, was of course strongly influenced by its University, with the associated Latin, and by its trade fairs, with the associated cosmopolitanism.<<
Does "associated cosmopolitanism" imply the use of French?

An important example of this "associated cosmopolitanism" and notion that French is the language of the royal court in Dresden and throughout the realm during the 1720s and 1730s, particularly in the largest cities under its jurisdiction and even more so required in showing deference to ruler in power is found in the "Lob- und Trauerrede" [in essence, a eulogy delivered as part of the formal ceremony in honor of Princess Christiane Eberhardine of Saxony] which was given on October 17, 1727 in the St. Paul's Church [Paulinerkirche] associated with the University of Leipzig. Permission for this ceremony was sought from the Elector and granted. This, by the way, was also the time and place for the first performance of Bach's "Trauerode" BWV 198, composed on a text (an ode in German) by Johann Christoph Gottsched and performed as part of the ceremony mentioned above. A university student, born of nobility, Carl von Kirchbach, was the prime mover in planning and carrying out the numerous preparations necessary for this ceremony. It may be that Gottsched had a hand in this matter behind the scenes, it was, after all, his Ode of Mourning ["Trauerode"] in German which played an important role at the ceremony as it was performed before and after the 'main event': the eulogy which was delivered in German by von Kirchbach. We are fortunate enough to have a public reaction to this 'speech' which was well received. A report from a Leipzig newspaper indicates a very positive reception of this speech which was in German. The speech proved "wie geschickt und wohl man sich in der Deutschen Sprache ausdrücken könne" ("how skillfully and how well one can express oneself in the German language").

Certainly Bach must have been aware of this prevailing attitude among the educated class of people in Leipzig, an attitude that may later have influenced his own decision not to write his dedicatory page for the "Musical Offering" in French, although he knew quite well which language the dedicatee, one of the most powerful rulers in Germany at that time, would have wanted/expected to see as a title page dedicated to him.

Bach's letter to the Elector Frierich August I of Saxony, Leipzig, November 3, 1725 is entirely in German with a few Latin-based, non-German words thrown in "Universität, Resolution, Submißion", etc. thrown in because of the legal nature of the document.

To reiterate: No Latin, no French (not a 'sprinkling' or even a single word of French in the entire Ode by Gottsched, and, I assume the same situation would have prevailed in Kirchbach's speech for which no printed source is extant), despite the fact that this event (one of national importance and one where sensitivity displayed toward the Elector) would have been even more important than usual and that the university connection might have demanded some inclusion of Latin-based words anywhere in the ode and speech.

Of interest would be to examine carefully the recorded minutes of the meetings in which Bach's qualifications and suitability are discussed between the members of the Leipzig City Council. I have read them, but at the moment am unable to locate the source, but if I remember correctly, these 'speeches'/commentaries/objections, etc. do not contain even a sprinkling of French words, only perhaps a few Latin-based words here and there. While Bach's catechism questions were conducted in Latin (I believe), everything else during his examination before the city council was in the standard German of his time without any Saxon dialect words appearing anywhere. The same is even true of the documents he was required to sign.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 1, 2006):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< The strand of interest here is the leading position of Leipzig as a centre of Latin scholarship.
The key German-Latin dictionary, the Thesaurus eruditionis scholasticae, was produced by the Rector of the University of nearby Erfurt, Basil Faber (1520-1575). Later editions had contributions by Andreas Stuebel, as we know from Wolff, the likely author of the texts of the second Jahrgang. We may therefore consider that Stuebel would have known Latin poetry in addition to his familiarity with thChorale texts. >
Indeed one of the more interesting tidbits to cross the pub floor, interesting at least to me. Bach wrote a "FABER" canon (BWV 1078), and speculation is wide open as to what "FABER" it possibly refers to...apart from the obvious acrostics in the score, plus the thematic use of the notes F-A-B-E-Repetatur as an ostinato.

This Basil Faber of the dictionary isn't one I'd seen yet. Bach-Dokumente, The [New] Bach Reader, and Oxford Composer Companion all give different speculations from one another, some of them even going into people named Schmid(t) since that's a vernacular translation of "Faber". And I have my own speculation about a possible referral back to Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, polymath and tuning theorist. The more the merrier, with a Latin dictionary author into the mix as well.

Fa Mi, et Mi Fa est tota Musica.

Plus the suspicious-looking date of March 1st 1749, on that canon; classically New Year's Day there instead of in January. In such a scheme, the fractional February 29th was the last day of the old year.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 1, 2006):
Language and Culture - Faber

Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Indeed one of the more interesting tidbits to cross the pub floor, interesting at least to me. Bach wrote a "FABER" canon (BWV 1078), and speculation is wide open as to what "FABER" it possibly refers to...apart from the obvious acrostics in the score, plus the thematic use of the notes F-A-B-E-Repetatur as an ostinato.<<
>>And I have my own speculation about a possible referral back to Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, polymath and tuning theorist.<<
Jacobus Faber Stapulensis (Lefèvre de Etaples) (c. 1455-1537) who mainly rehashed Boethius and other books on music theory from antiquity? And that a semitone = <4 and >3 commas?

How about D. T. Faber from Crailsheim who is said to have invented the fret-free (each tangent has a single string for itself) clavichord in 1725? [MGG1] Wouldn't Bach have appreciated this invention which would make
tuning this instrument (according to Equal Temperament, as I would see it) much easier for playing Bach's keyboard music (Inventions, WTC, etc.)? Perhaps Bach was simply indicating his gratitude to this Faber?

Chris Rowson wrote (November 2, 2006):
I think the Polish involvement of the Saxon Electors had little influence on language and culture in Dresden. It is indicative that when the Elector travelled to Poland the star musicians (e.g. Hasse, Buffardin, Quantz) did not go with him but were free to pursue other interests (such as visiting Leipzig).

Essentially the orientation of August I was to the west, to Versailles, and that of August II to the south, to Italy. Evidence of the latter is found not only in the Italian opera he brought to Dresden, but in other artworks, perhaps most of all the Raphael painting "The Sistine Madonna" which he made extreme exertions to obtain, with the perhaps hackneyed but nevertheless charming "putti" which have become the trademark of the city.

Overall, the palaces and churches built in Dresden during JSB´s lifetime are very impressive indeed, and the treasure chamber of the Augusts (recently re-opened to the public) is absolutely stunning. The latter, typically, is more a tour de force of exquisite artistic taste than a crass assembly of wealth, although there is certainly enough of the latter even in what still survives 250 years later.

The bombardment and occupation of Dresden by Frederick the Great from 1756-1763 put a rude end to this Augustan golden age in Saxony, but it was great while it lasted, and it set the framework for JSB´s cultural landscape.

I think he had always known he would never be Capellmeister in Dresden - you had to have done the Grand Tour - and he was not going to settle for less as his principal position. So he settled for Capellmeister in Cöthen/Weissenfels, and musical director of the 2nd city of Saxony.

 

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Last update: ýAugust 10, 2007 ý12:42:41