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Re-Writing Bach

Re-writing Bach

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 27, 2007):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I quite enjoy Veldhoven's method of contrasting concertists and ripienists in the example of the "Et Resurrexit" (available at the link given by Brad). >
I have to admit that I intensely dislike this new fashion of playing around with the score and "writing in solos". The Tafelmusik Orchestra and Choir gave an admirable performance last year but the conductor inserted solo passages throughout which have no justification in the score. If the soloists were singing with the full choir there might be some Baroque precedent for concertists and ripienists, but I became increasingly annoyed as the soloists kept rising unexpectedly at the front of the stage and rendering a solo. That's Mahler not Bach.

Uri Golomb wrote (April 27, 2007):
[To Doug Cowling] In Veldhoven's case, the soloists were singing with the full choir. and of course, it's not a question of "writing in solos". The solos (concertists) are always there -- it's the choir (ripienists) that's being added (or removed). The precedent is there in Bach: he wrote Cantata BWV 21, for example, for concertists only, then in a later performance added ripienists for selected movements and passages. I'm not sure if he's ever done the reverse (i.e., write a work initially with ripienists, then performed the work again without them -- in some or all places).

Joshua Rifkin, in Bach's Choral Ideal, points out that when Bach added ripieno parts -- as in Cantata BWV 21 -- "he did not generally have them employed throughout even the choral movements without differnetiation [...] if we truly follow the lead of these [added ripieno] parts, we enter the territory of second-guessing and speculation, not to say outright arrangement. Ironically, such arrangements in fact BRING US CLOSER [my emphasis, not Rifkin's] to 18th-century practices than does the modern all-or-nothing use of the chorus. But scholars and performers alike have felt uneasy with this approach, precisely because of the liberties it seems to take with Bach's musical text" (pp. 38/9). IN an endnotes to this passage (p. 66), Rifkin adds: "Parrott's recording of the B minor Mass (BWV 232) attempts an arrangement of this sort, openly acknowledged as such. Readers should recall, too, that Bach's own additions of ripieno parts to works originally compsed without them also count as 'arrangements'".

So -- alternations between concertist-only and concertists-plus-ripienists do, in general, reflect 18th-century practices and follow 18th-century leads. One can dispute the application of this method in specific instances (and some ways of doing it might be more credibly Baroque than others), but the general idea does not strike me as Mahlerian in the least. (I cannot comment on the Tafelmusik performance, as I didn't hear it; and of course, if the soloists were a separate body -- silent in choruses, and singing only in the solo passages -- that does run against standard 18th century practices). Bach himself had no qualms in taking such liberties with his own scores -- or other composers'. And, pace Rifkin, I'm not sure Bach would have insisted on a clear distinction between "original" and "arrangement". For him, the addition of ripienists (or their removal, for that matter) might simply have been part of preparing a work for renewed performance, taking account of the differences between the ensemble and acoustics he had in Performance 1 to those he had at his disposal for Performance 2.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 27, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< So -- alternations between concertist-only and concertists-plus-ripienists do, in general, reflect 18th-century practices and follow 18th-century leads. One can dispute the application of this method in specific instances (and some ways of doing it might be more credibly Baroque than others), but the general idea does not strike me as Mahlerian in the least. (I cannot comment on the Tafelmusik performance, as I didn't hear it; and of course, if the soloists were a separate body -- silent in choruses, and singing only in the solo passages -- that does run against standard 18th century practices) >
Sorry, I didn't make myself clear. Certainly an authentic concertist/ripienist arrangement in which the soloists sing with the choir brings us much closer to Bach's period. Even Handel who used women soloists expected them to sing in the choruses even though the soprano line was sung by boys and the alto line by counter-tenors. My objection is to the imposition of the Romantic layout where the soloists sit in splendid isolation from the choir -- arbitrarily giving them passages of choruses or even whole choruses makes performances sound like the 9th Symphony. There are a lot of bad "traditions" out there -- giving the "Et iterum" to all the choral tenors and basses, or the "Suscepit Israel" in the Magnificat (BWV 243) to the choir. Not to mention the widespread notion that the Bach wrote the ripieno part in the SMP (BWV 244) for massed children's choir. Or that the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) and the Magnificat (BWV 243) are written for four not five soloists. We don't need any more bad habits from whimsical conductors.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 27, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
>>There are a lot of bad "traditions" out there --giving the "Et iterum" to all the choral tenors and basses, or the "Suscepit Israel" in the Magnificat (BWV 243) to the choir.<<
Is your contention, if I understand you correctly, that the "Suscepit Israel" in BWV 243a and BWV 243 is to be sung only by the concertists and not by the ripienists or concertists + ripienists? If so, upon what evidence or clear reasoning would such a notion as this be based?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 27, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Is your contention, if I understand you correctly, that the "Suscepit Israel" in BWV 243a and BWV 243 is to be sung only by the concertists and not by the ripienists or concertists + ripienists? If so, upon what evidence or clear reasoning would such a notion as this be based? >
Bach writes for 5 soloists (SSATB) int he Magnificat (BWV 243). It is "traditional" to use only SATB soloists with the alto singing the S2 aria, "Et exultavit". In modern performances with four soloists and choir, the trio therefore has to be given to the full SSA choir because there isn't a fifth singer. In an OVPP performance with five singers there are no problems.

I'm not defending the practice. If a full choir is used, there should at least be five soloists so that the trio is not choral. As far as I know, there are no other SSA choruses in any of Bach's works.

The Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chorus has announced that in their next season that they will divide the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) over two nights, with three parts and the Magnificat (BWV 243) at each concert. A very happy solution in my estimation -- the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) doesn't really work all in one concert.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 27, 2007):
Traditional? [was: Re-writing Bach]

Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Bach writes for 5 soloists (SSATB) int he Magnificat (BWV 243). It is "traditional" to use only SATB soloists with the alto singing the S2 aria, "Et exultavit". >
In the long history of Bach performances one can only marvel at any declaration as to what is "tr". In Bernstein's early 1960s recording Jennie Tourel sings S2 and CT Russell Oberlin sings alto.

In spite of such fine soloists, at least in the case of the two named, it's not a performance that does much for me. I still marvel at these declarations of what is traditional since the tradition changes all the time.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 27, 2007):
>>> There are a lot of bad "traditions" out there --giving the "Et iterum" to all the choral tenors and basses, or the "Suscepit Israel" in the Magnificat (BWV 243) to the choir.<<
< Is your contention, if I understand you correctly, that the "Suscepit Israel" in
BWV 243a and BWV 243 is to be sung only by the concertists and not by the ripienists or concertists + ripienists? If so, upon what evidence or clear reasoning would such a notion as this be based? >
The parts (if they ever existed) for the Magnificat (BWV 243) are now lost; we can't know one way or the other from those. And the score says nothing one way or the other about the existence of any ripienists, for this piece. Apparently the five vocal soloists comprise a sufficient group, i.e. the concertists. If there ever were any ripienists for this piece, apparently they were only optional at best.

Andrew Parrott's April 1989 recording of this, with a grand total of five singers, sounds terrific to me. Emily van Evera, Evelyn Tubb, Caroline Trevor, Howard Crook, and Simon Grant. Wow, this excellent 2-CD set is now down below $7.00 these days?! Amazon.com
I paid a lot more for it, years ago....

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 27, 2007):
< Bach writes for 5 soloists (SSATB) int he Magnificat (BWV 243). It is "traditional" to use only SATB soloists with the alto singing the S2 aria, "Et exultavit". In modern performances with four soloists and choir, the trio therefore has to be given to the full SSA choir because there isn't a fifth singer. In an OVPP performance with five singers there are no problems. I'm not defending the practice. If a full choir is used, there should at least be five soloists so that the trio is not choral. >
That's a good and practical point. If they have all those extra "choral" singers available, why don't they just bring one of those sopranos out to join the other two soloists for that one movement...instead of assigning the whole movement to every available S or A singer (except the soloists, making the problem of anachronism
even worse...)?

In a quick check of the recordings I have here: four of them (Christophers, Parrott, Gardiner, Herreweghe) hired five soloists for the Magnificat (BWV 243), and the other two (Fasolis and Kuijken) hired only four.

The Fasolis recording lists "Et exultavit" as "Soprano I" which is wrong (should be II), and "Quia respexit" as "Soprano II" (should be I). And then, as far as I can tell from the sound and from the cast list, he just has the same soprano (Antonella Balducci) sing both these back-to-back movements anyway, two solos in succession by the same soloist. Neither one is done by the male alto. Balducci does a fine job at both parts, but where's the contrast? And then when we get to the "Suscepit Israel," sure enough the thing is done SSA by the Swiss Radio Chorus instead of the soloists.

The Kuijken recording also mis-labels the parts, but differently: "Alto" for "Et exultavit", and simply "Soprano" for "Quia respexit". And neither one is given to the male alto, Rene Jacobs; Greta de Reyghere, the "soprano", sings both these solos. Some contrast comes in as she and the players do the "Quia respexit" with an inegal so strong it starts to sound like dotted notes.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 27, 2007):
<< Bach writes for 5 soloists (SSATB) int he Magnificat (BWV 243). It is "traditional" to use only SATB soloists with the alto singing the S2 aria, "Et exultavit". >>
< In the long history of Bach performances one can only marvel at any declaration as to what is "traditional". In Bernstein's early 1960s recording Jennie Tourel sings S2 and CT Russell Oberlin sings alto.
In spite of such fine soloists, at least in the case of the two named, it's not a performance that does much for me. I still marvel at these declarations of what is traditional since the tradition changes all the time. >
Well, I thought his use of the word "traditional" was just fine -- especially marking it with scare-quotes like that, instead of simply using the word unmarked and without comment in the sentence.

It appeared to me that the tradition (or "tradition") he was citing included not only the collection of recordings, but actual performance experiences in expert choral groups, and the attendance of concerts by other groups.

Also, since the person who wrote that is himself a professional director of at least one vocal ensemble, in regular performance of church music, I caught the whiff of implication that he'd do it differently himself instead of merely following a questionable "tradition" to employ only four soloists.

p.s. For explanation of the term "scare-quotes", see especially Richard Taruskin's book Text and Act....

 

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Last update: żAugust 17, 2007 ż23:08:54