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Recitatives in Bach’s Vocal Works

Part 10

 

 

Continue from Part 9

Kellner & 'shortened declamation'
OT: taking skepticism seriously
Braatz on Braatz and Braatz on Dreyfus

Amrine on Dreyfus & Amrine on Amrine

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 6, 2003):
Johann van Veen provided the following information:
>> In an essay on the basso continuo practice of the baroque by a Dutch musicologist I found a quotation which prescribes exactly what has been described here. It is from David Keller (Treulicher Unterricht im Generalbass, 1732):
"Anlangend die Music so muss der General-Bassiste wissen: dass sich der Vocaliste niemahls an den Tact binde, sondern seine Freyheit brauche, dannenhero die Singe-Stimme allemahl über den General-Bass geschrieben zu seyn pfleget, damit der Accompagniste sich darnach richten und nachgeben könne".

My translation:
"As far as the music is concerned, the basso continuo player should know that the singer never sticks to the beat, but needs his freedom. Therefore the vocal part is usually written out completely above the basso continuo, so the basso continuo player can follow it and obey it".<<

And

Brad Lehmann’s deliberately taunting, rhetorical questions:
>>Anyway: now, I expect, we will see a frantic attempt by someone here to knock off Kellner: either _ad hominem_ or to show some other irrelevance of his wisdom, the same way a character-assassination attempt was made on Daube (and duly addressed on my page). Will it be geography, style, Kellner's presumed mental capacity, Kellner's presumed dishonesty, sacred vs secular mumbo jumbo, or some other strategy this time?<<
[If you consider your fanatical belief in Peter Williams and David Ledbetter as having provided actual, definitive evidence that must remain, according to you, rather secretive (read ‘sacred’) because of your inability to reveal or even distill or summarize the information and methods of research that these experts employed, then you must be assuming that the readers of this list are incapable of using commonsense and reasonableness to come to their own decisions regarding Bach’s performance practices. It is rather the case that your method of rigidly resisting any considerations or evidence when forced to reexamine any aspect of the series of tenuous conjectures now known as ‘short declamation’ [originally ‘the shortened accompaniment of Bach’s secco recitatives’] reveals an attitude of desperation on your part, an attitude that precludes any sort of objective evaluation of a performance practice which has become a ‘religion’ for you. This religious attitude allows you to overlook and easily dismiss many revealing aspects and bits of evidence which a more balanced viewpoint would consider worthy of consideration.

In a normal discussion, I want to be persuaded that all the steps that were undertaken to bring about the ‘great chasm’ between HIP, non-HIP and all the varieties of compromise between them were based upon reasonable evidence and not upon some few musicians or musicologists who decided a change was necessary in performance practice and who may have pushed the limits of reasonableness to the extreme in order to achieve their objective.

1. Daube.

Brad had stated elsewhere:
>>A correspondent has written to try to discredit Daube's reliability: claiming through a tenuous series of conjectures that Daube perhaps never heard Johann Sebastian Bach perform a cantata! I have given this objection due consideration, and have found no sufficient reason to believe the correspondent's conjecture ahead of the work of Ledbetter and Williams.<<
So the printed statement by a student and musician who had performed directly under Bach is worth less than that of Ledbetter and Williams who seem to believe, according to you, that Daube’s statement is reliable despite the evidence that I gave? [In essence this is what I found: Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Sonnenkalb (1732-1785), an alumnus of the Thomanerchor who had personally sung and performed under Bach’s direction from 1746-1750 seriously questioned in his book, “Historisch-Kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik…” Berlin, 1759, Daube’s personal acquaintance with Bach’s performance style: “Wo hat denn aber der Herr Daube denselben gehöret? Wer weiß, ob er ihn gar gehöret hat, ob er sich gleich hier so groß mit ihm macht. Ich zweifle fast daran….“ [„Just where did Mr. Daube ever hear J. S. Bach? Who knows if he [Daube] had ever hear him [J. S. Bach] at all, even if he brags so much about having done so. I rather doubt it….”] The burden of proof here is definitely upon Ledbetter and Williams and you have yet to reveal why you are incapable of thinking ‘on your own.’ There is no logical way for you to deflect this information unless you hide behind academic credentials and the ‘coattails’ of others when you consider that Daube claims to have heard Bach’s performances and then still has the audacity to describe what he had heard as if he had been there. Such statements are then, nevertheless, used by musicologists to provide the shaky underpinnings of a theory which threatens imminently to collapse when scrutinized carefully for the flaws which have been overlooked.

2. Captain (in the military in Hamburg) David Kellner (Leipzig, c1670 -- Stockholm, April 6, 1748).

[There is no need to look up the copyrighted Williams article, because it is possible to judge his methods by finding corroboration (or non-corroboration and a possible careless choice of sources on the part of Williams) elsewhere. Williams and Brad ehman do not have ‘a corner on this market’ as long as there are minds capable of thinking clearly and making reasonable judgments.]

a) Here we have an individual known primarily as a lutenist (there are some lute pieces (17) in French tablature) with no extant works for keyboard, although, unless there is confusion with another musician (possibly a brother), he did play, beginning in 1711, a church organ in Stockholm where he was also the carilloneur.

His main claim to fame is his treatise:
Treulicher Unterricht im General-Baß worinne alle Weitläufftigkeit vermieden, und dennoch gantz deutlich und umständlich allerhand sothane neu-erfundene Vortheile an die Hand gegeben werden, vermöge welcher einer in kurtzer Zeit alles, was zu dieser Wissenschaft gehöret, sattsam begreiffen kan)“ (Hamburg, 1732.)

Note the time and place of this 1st edition! Bach had essentially composed all of his cantatas by this time. Laurence Dreyfus on p. 80 of his “Bach’s Continuo Group” (Harvard University Press, 1987) states: “Kellner’s treatise often provides little more than a gloss on Heinichen.” [Johann David Heinichen’s “Neu erfundene und Gründliche Anweisung….” (Hamburg, 1711.)] Here’s a quotation using ‚gloss’ from the OED: “He could hardly resist the temptation to pervert or gloss the truth.” To put Dreyfus’ comment in the best light: ‘Kellner provides a mere commentary or capsulized reiteration of Heinichen’s ideas.’ [So, if you have Heinichen as a source, why would you want to duplicate this information with a corrupted source such as Kellner's unless the purpose is to provide 'padding' and make it appear as if two independent sources relay the same information? But this is definitely not the case here!]

b) Dreyfus also writes: “To be sure, Kellner, like Heinichen, states that short accompaniment is an occasional practice. It is possible, therefore, that he wanted organists to play as written in secco movements.” This means that my original interpretation of Heinichen’s statement [which is about the only quite reliable bit of evidence which we have for performance practice in secco recitatives] is essentially correct: only under special conditions are exceptions to the rule allowed [‘howling’ ciphers or chords that sound bad because of the temperament used in the organ and a few other special circumstances.] This Heinichen quote has been perversely turned about entirely by many HI practitioners to mean: generally, but not always, shortened accompaniment. It is the opposite which is really true if the experts and interpret the Heinichen source correctly.

c) Having purportedly ‘avoided going into great detail at all costs,' [as he indicates in his title] Kellner succumbs to the Bismarck technique which I alluded to recently: removing certain details that are crucial to understanding the differences between such things invisible/unknown to many current HI practitioners: sacred vs. secular; or church recitatives vs. operatic/chamber music recitatives, a distinction which Johann Friedrich Agricola, Mattheson, and Heinichen uphold in their books from Bach’s period. None of the quotations [Kellner’s statement as quoted by Johan van Veen] indicates the context of the statement and whether Kellner makes any distinction at all between the categories of recitatives just mentioned.

d) The audience which Kellner addresses is one which wants a ‘quick fix’ where everything you may want to know about this subject can be understood ‘in a very short time.’ What can one reliably expect (compared to such a substantial basso continuo book such as that by Heinichen) from a writer whose musical experience, background and output seems rather limited and whose preference is for the lute where the chords, usually arpeggiated, even when struck as a chord, quickly decay, so that there is little question about a sustained chord based upon a long note in the bc? Perhaps the habits Kellner formed in gaining expertise on the lute influenced adversely (compared to Bach's performance style which would have been quite different) the manner in which he personally wished to hear secco recitatives performed?

e) J. Mattheson (in the “Niedersächsische Nachrichten” 1732, No. 51) offers a very sharp criticism of Kellner’s book. This is just another indication regarding the questionable nature of this source generally, notwithstanding the number of editions and translations that this book had. According to this line of thinking, if we were to judge on popularity alone (number of copies sold and purchased by others), much of Bach’s music would have to be considered inferior to that of Telemann and others.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 6, 2003):
OT: taking skepticism seriously

In: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/11937
Thomas Braatz correctly pointed out:
>> In a normal discussion, I want to be persuaded that all the steps that were undertaken to bring about the ‘great chasm’ between HIP, non-HIP and all the varieties of compromise between them were based upon reasonable evidence and not upon some few musicians or musicologists who decided a change was necessary in performance practice and who may have pushed the limits of reasonableness to the extreme in order to achieve their objective. (...)
Williams and Brad Lehman do not have ‘a corner on this market’ as long as there are minds capable of thinking clearly and making reasonable judgments.] <<
Yes. I agree with that goal, and with the skeptical viewpoint of it.

=====

Now, let us consider what is proposed here, to make sure it is all clear.

(1) Braatz' theory is: continuo players in Bach cantatas must always play the bass notes and harmonies for full notated value.

(2) The theory of the musicological community, and "historically-informed" performers, is: continuo players in Bach cantatas may play the bass notes and harmonies shorter or longer than the notated values, according to musical context; that there existed a practice in Bach's own milieu--and observable directly in his music--to allow such a less-literal reading of the notes.

The evidence for theory (2) has already been presented, many times; and I have summarized it at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm
(but, of course, one should rely not only on my presentation but track it back through the scholarly research...it is basic scientific method to do so, to check everything).

Braatz has not presented any positive evidence in support of (1) but merely has sought to discredit (2) as much as he can do, by his own checking through the sources presented. (Although, his open refusal to read the Williams article is still beyond me; and his willingness to speculate on its contents instead of reading it.) Not a positive argument, but a negative one...and that's assuming that (1) and (2) really make a valid dichotomy anyway [which needs to be shown]. That is, the refutation of (2) would not automatically make (1) true.

=====

Theory (2) has already been studied and tested and refined, for more than 50 years, and is pretty well settled as valid in the scientific and practical opinion of experts in the field. As a theory, it has practical value: as a way of explaining notational inconsistencies in Bach's music, and as a guideline for performance practice.

The theory does not convince Braatz himself, but that observation (in itself) neither proves nor disproves the theory.

=====

So, let's focus on theory (1), the literalism. It can be traced back to the "neoclassicists" and "neo-Baroque" movements early in the 20th century: Hindemith, Stravinsky, et al: the preference of playing things as they appear on the page and not letting any unwritten understandings influence the music one way or another.

For positive evidence: Braatz, or someone else, must prove that it goes back much farther than that, and indeed all the way back (at least) to Johann Sebastian Bach in the 1720s and 1730s.

To prove that would be a more productive use of time and energy and resources, than to try to disprove (2). Positive work! Plus, there would be a positive, practical outcome: Neil Halliday and some other music lovers will enjoy such a swing back toward performance practices that they prefer to listen to, as has been expressed clearly. More recordings will, eventually, become available using this theory: if it is valid.

[Historically: theory (1) was simply assumed to be valid without proof, through the early 20th century, and still has some adherents who resist the rise of theory (2). There are still some who would prefer to retain (1) and throw out (2). But, the burden of proof is now upon those who would retain (1), since (2) is now the accepted expert theory in this scientific field!]

=====

As for Braatz' own most recent objections to (2), let us examine them closely, to give him the clear thinking and reasonable judgments he asks for. Let us apply to his work the same skepticism he expects of the musicological community.

Braatz has objected to evidence from Daube and Kellner, among much else. Is his objection valid? Let us see. Let us run it through the sieve of 25 fallacies, described by the director of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer: http://www.skeptic.com/
Shermer's list of 25 common fallacies is reproduced here: http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/sherm3.htm

If Braatz' objection to Daube and Kellner is valid, it should be able to pass through all 25 items of that list without being caught as invalid thinking. That is, its score must be zero if the point is valid. (Not that a zero score is sufficient proof that a point is valid; but a convincing presentation of a valid objection must have zero problems in the reasoning process. Any nonzero score betrays fuzzy thinking, illogic, improper research methods: an un-scientific approach to the material.)

Is the score zero? This can be determined by independent observation, empirically. Braatz has asked that the topic be addressed by "minds capable of thinking clearly and making reasonable judgments." So, let us do so.

Braatz' posting is here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/11937

I have compared it directly against the list, and found a nonzero score: a specific list of at least one (of the 25) points where Braatz' reasoning is faulty. I should not say exactly the number of fallacies I found, so as not to influence any other observers (but I have it right here opaper, the printout of Braatz' posting: in the margins I have noted the specific points of failure, annotated with the reasons for failure). The important thing is not so much the exact number of problems, as that the score is nonzero at all. (And higher scores merely suggest more sloppiness in thinking, a loose correlation, without really changing the fact that it's sloppy and invalid methods at all.)

Let us be empirical. I suggest that other members here should examine Braatz' posting, and score it independently by those 25 possible points of fallacy. Johan van Veen, Uri Golomb, Charles Francis, David Lebut, Neil Halliday, and any others who wish to participate, to see just how valid Braatz' skeptical methods really are. If Braatz' objection to Daube/Kellner is valid, these independent observers should all honestly give his posting a score of zero, i.e. no flubs. Let us see the results.

This is not facetious. This is a serious challenge to check Braatz' work. He asked for it; so, to take him as seriously as he asks, it must be done. Shall we present the findings, say, on Wednesday December 10th? That should allow enough time for any to study his posting and the list of fallacies, and come up with a score as to its validity.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 6, 2003):
Brad's opening assessment based upon my evidence regarding Kellner, Daube, etc.:
>>(1) Braatz' theory is: continuo players in Bach cantatas must always play the bass notes and harmonies for full notated value.<<
This proves once again that you are incapable of reading another person's statement, particularly if it is contrary to your own 'religious mind-set' regarding this matter, without inserting your own extreme, negative, simplistic interpretation of everything. Is 'black & white' or '0 & 1' the only way you can characterize my comments? Did your eyes 'glaze over' again before you could completely comprehend that this is a matter of musical subtlety of which individuals other than yourself are capable?. Since you choose to err on the side of extremes (along with many HI practitioners who take overly great freedom with Bach's scores), does this mean that there can not be another direction [the direction that others and I have chosen] which chooses to allow only subtle changes that depart from the score? Within these subtle changes, great artistry can take place and move the listener in ways not available to those performers who choose extreme mannerisms which essentially neglect Ba!
ch's intentions as indicated in the score.

You have expended great, and unnecessary, energy in distorting my statements so that they will seem ridiculous [essentially 'wanting to have Bach played mechanically as a computer would simply render the notes.'] I certainly do not recognize them as being my own words after you have contorted them to fit your own preconceived notions of what I have stated. Your inability to understand the fine gradations available between 'your way' and 'another way' puts into question not only your methods of scholarship, but even your musical abilities which seem to comprehend the world only in terms of extremes. A musician with a 'fine ear,' an ear just as good as Bach's as you would have it, should also be capable of ascertaining fine distinctions, not simply in terms of only 'fortissimo' or 'pianissimo,' 'black & white,' etc. Nevertheless, without resorting to a mechanically 'dead' rendition of Bach's music, it is important to remain closer to Bach's intentions, and if one wants to venture away from the score as you seem prone to do, then let it be known that the performance is a 'take-off' from the original, but do not allow unknowing listeners to believe that the composer's intentions are being closely followed.

Placing the distortions of my ideas before others on this list and putting into my mouth words which I have never uttered (or written on these lists) are actions unworthy of an individual who claims to have had such an excellent education. Your credibility continues to suffer because of such actions and because of the attitude that you have assumed in attempting to discuss very serious subject matter concerning Bach's music as it has been recorded and continues to appear in recordings now and into the future.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 7, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Then by all means, Tom: please state your theory directly that we may understand most clearly what you wish us to believe about Bach's music. That would be more productive than trying to beat me up, or whining that you've been misrepresented. State your theory, sir!

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 7, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] That is: Tom, if you believe the performance must be subtle to be "correctly" performed...spell out exactly how subtle (and no further) performers must be to play the music correctly; and give the historical evidence that proves Bach wanted it that way (and no further). Explain your theory that the music must be some sort of puzzle that lay listeners will not solve but that connoisseurs will get, in the historical situation that all these people would be hearing the music exactly one time (on Sunday morning, in church). That's what I've gathered that your theory is: to stick very closely to a literal reading of the score (or, the way you read the score) allowing only minor subtleties that only connoisseurs (looking at scores!) will pick up. Such detail of your theory must be spelled out most clearly if anyone is to understand your theory.

Or, if this is not an accurate description, please provide one so that WE MAY UNDERSTAND WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO YOU TO SHOW THAT ESTABLISHED MUSICOLOGY IS WRONG, IN YOUR OPINION. If you have a theory about the way the music should be played, or must be played, by all means, lay it right out there as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Until/unless you do so, it just appears (to this observer, anyway) that you enjoy being a quixotic maverick and would love to knock down whatever you can, out of some destructive glee or something. Your position is not understandable; help us understand why you are doing this. Provide a positive statement, and positive evidence, for your position. That is what scholarship is; not the gainsaying of the establishment, but a positive case in support of a clearly stated theory. And, scholarship is also dherence to valid methods of thinking and research...which will also need to be checked if your theory is to have any merit. First, we need to hear what that theory of yours is, plainly. Clearly you want to be taken seriously; so be forthright about it!

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 7, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] There is no need for me to state ‘my’ theory.

What’s so difficult about understanding the key source, Heinichen, who stated very positively the following about ‘secco’ recitatives in church cantatas:
“…for you simply have to press down on the keys and the hands remain there without any further ceremony holding the chord until another chord follows it. This next chord is held out the same way as before.” The full context and original text with the unusual exceptions to this ‘rule’ are given in the middle of the long page on Aryeh’s site: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz-FB.htm

It is quite clear to me that this means ‘play it the way Bach wrote it’ unless there are some extraordinary extenuating circumstances, a few of which Heinichen mentioned. The list will definitely be longer than Heinichen’s examples to be sure, but the fact remains: the long notes in the bc are generally held for their full value by one or more of the basso continuo group accompanying the recitative. Of course, there will also be some ‘give and take’ between the soloist and the instruments whose purpose is to support the voice which has some freedom to change the strict tempo (slightly) while giving musical expression to the words which are not declaimed in a melodramatic or overly dramatic fashion (half-spoken words being more important than actual pitches.)

It is not my fault that some musicologists (not AlfDürr, for instance) have decided to read something else into Heinichen’s statement or have been unable to consider the bc part to the 2nd and last version of the SMP as an anomaly, which it is, because there were many unusual circumstances surrounding the performance of this work which may have led Bach to make a quick, last-minute decision when copying the part from his score which he had just previously completed and which still has the long, held notes in the ‘secco’ recitatives of the Evangelist.

The burden of proof for the ‘short declamation’ still remains squarely upon those who subscribe to this theory, for the evidence that is offered falls short in achieving its goal which was prematurely realized by many proponents of HIP who were more eager to try something new and different as a contrast to some of the late, romantic style of playing Bach which had, in some instances, reached an extreme that needed some correction. What we did get as a replacement were performances/recordings so radically different that they felt no compunction in disregarding numerous notational elements that Bach had committed to paper in his scores

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 7, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] So, stated plainly: your theory is that Heinichen's is the only source that really matters. A theory of extreme selectivity. What is your evidence that everything else is, therefore, irrelevant and to be knocked off? And that Bach would have accepted only the authoritative statements of Heinichen as gospel?

Neil Halliday wrote (December 7, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] There are quite a few strands in Tom's article, and I'm not sure I follow them all.

BTW, I do consider this an appropriate topic for this board (or the BCML), eg, I would like to ask members if they agree with my impression of the attractive 'musicality' of the McCreesh SMP (BWV 244) secco recitatives (disregarding for the moment the fact of the unusual 'short' notation in the SMP, discussed at length by Tom), a performance in which the continuo chords sound long, because of the unusually 'live' (long reverberation time) acoustic of this recording.

The main draw back of the discussion, in my view, has been its occasional angry tone, but this (hopefully) appears to be improving of late; as has been pointed out, those members not interested in this topic need only press the 'next' button.

Firstly, I must say I am impressed by Heinichen's statement (naturally, but anyway, let's scrutinize it).

Written in 1711, in the early stages of Bach's career in composing sacred music, it plainly states how continuo chords are to be played on the organ, in the church music secco recitatives (Richter follows this method to the letter, with his sensitive and artistic use of 'soft' stops on relatively large organs).

Naturally, one would need to know if Heinichen actually knew of Bach's practice, or if Bach followed Heinichen's method.

OTOH, is there any statement, from an author writing between c.1705 and c.1730 (the span of time in which Bach composed the major part of his church cantatas) that specifically contradicts Heinichen?

I'm having trouble following the discussion about Kellner and Daube; I can't see anything significant in the quote from Kellner supplied by Johann - vocalists can have all the freedom they want, over held continuo chords - and I have not been able to glean what Daube actually wrote in regard to Bach's church practice.

Do we really have enough evidence, one way or the other? Certainly, I am at present in no position to apply sceptic Michael Schermer's 25 points of analysis (which I have not read yet) to Tom's article, in regard to the matter at hand.

Douglas S.A. wrote (December 7, 2003):
I read with interest the correspondence which Thomas Braatz referred us all to yesterday: (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz-FB.htm)

It is very interesting that Mr Braatz sums up his interpretation of various texts by saying "The bass notes of the basso continuo with the figured-bass chords that is played along with it on the organ are normally sustained for the full value of the note indicated in the score. There are, however, extenuating circumstances that might require the premature termination of the chord played on the organ. When this happens, the other instruments in the continuo group continuo to play, albeit not the complete elements of the chord, but at least the bass note is sustained for its full value." When a correpondent asks him "Try to find out how Christoph Wolff thinks about it, he knew about Heinichen I should think and probably there are more musicologists.", Thomas Braatz then goes on to justify his conclusions with the following statement, and I quote directly from him:

"As far as consulting other musicologists in this matter, I believe that I have found a very reputable source in Dreyfus, whom I have already discussed, and who states in his acknowledgments: "To Christoph Wolff in particular, who inspired me to undertake the research, [remember that this research is specifically on the matter before us here] who became a benevolent 'Doktorvater', who oversaw the early stages of this work, and who has encouraged me in countless ways ever since, words cannot repay my thanks nor adequately express my affection."

It is very curious that Mr Braatz does NOT quote Dreyfus's own summary of his conclusions on this matter. I have Dreyfus's book in front of me and on page 82 he writes, "In summary, the reintroduction of Italianiate recitative into German sacred music apparently brought with it the practice of playing bass parts in some abbreviated fashion. The most common method—when specified at all--replaced long values with quarter notes and rests. Exactly where the convention was in use or precisely how it was applied is difficult to determine. However, all three writers (including Telemann) who describe any shortening at all specify it in only one form: quarter notes and rests. Short accompaniment--when adopted--seems to have provided a relatively simple method of enhancing the comprehensibility of the text while eliminating an annoying drone in the bass."

So, it would seem extremely misleading for Mr Braatz to cite Dreyfus (and by extension, Christoph Wolff) in support of his views, when it is clear that Dreyfus's own interpretation of the sources is diametrically opposed to that of Braatz.

But this argument about sources and their interpretation has, I feel, been fully exhausted on this list. Please, could we stop talking about it unless someone comes up with a NEW 18th-century source?

My own views are these: there is a lot of evidence of short accompaniment in the 18th century; there is also some evidence in the music of Bach itself (such as the recitative in the middle of the Chromatic Fantasy - NOT a sacred work, of course!!!). None of this evidence is absolutely conclusive with regards to Bach cantatas and passions. But each conductor/performer must experiment and draw their own conclusions. As (generally) a listener to cantatas rather than a performer of them, I am grateful to conductors who employ short accompaniment, for the following reasons: 1) it helps me to understand the texts better, 2) it puts the singer's dramatic nuances in the foreground, 3) it provides rhythmic punctuation which I find appropriate in this context, and 4) in my opinion, based on my own knowledge of the sources and the repertoire, it positions Bach cantatas within the context of musical life of his day and this helps me to understand the genius of Bach and his contemporaries better.

I am particularly grateful to Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt for their pioneering performances which have inspired so many musicians to study the sources and to couple their imaginations with the, sometimes patchy, evidence which survives from the 18th century. It pains me to see their work described as a "bandwagon" or "esoteric", terms which seem wholly inappropriate for individuals whose scholarship is exceeded only by their musicianship and courage.

Johan van Veen wrote (Decembe7, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote: < I'm having trouble following the discussion about Kellner and Daube; I can't see anything significant in the quote from Kellner supplied by Johann - vocalists can have all the freedom they want, over held continuo chords >
In the quotation I gave Kellner didn't say anything about the way the chords should be played. That is your prejudice.

I gave the quotation for another reason: the freedom and the leadership of the singer and the duty of the basso continuo player to follow his lead. That's all.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 8, 2003):
Amrine on Dreyfus & Amrine on Amrine

Regarding the 'short declamation' used in Bach's 'secco' recitatives where Bach's notation differs from that heard in HI performances, Douglas Amrine stated:

>> I am grateful to conductors who employ short accompaniment, for the following reasons: 1) it helps me to understand the texts better, 2) it puts the singer's dramatic nuances in the foreground, 3) it provides rhythmic punctuation which I find appropriate in this context, and 4) in my opinion, based on my own knowledge of the sources and the repertoire, it positions Bach cantatas within the context of musical life of his day and this helps me to understand the genius of Bach and his contemporaries better<<
While I respect your opinions expressed here, allow me nevertheless to suggest some possibilities for seeing/hearing things differently:

>>1) it helps me to understand the texts better<<
It is quite possible that the singers that you have heard are unable to sing German properly because they have not mastered the German language or its pronunciation sufficiently. Add to this the special techniques needed from a singing standpoint to enunciate clearly without unnecessary distortion of vowels and consonants (they must sound natural to those who are native to German or who have a thorough mastery of the language.)

It is also possible that many singers who have sung primarily in HIP lack sufficiently the ability to project the voice without amplification in a large, auditory environment as singing in a large church would require. My own observation in exploring thoroughly the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata series and other similar HIP series is that the voices used frequently lack the necessary capacity to do complete justice to the music. Now even more frequently than in the past such solo singers are being drawn from the choir itself [the recently released Hengelbrock ‘Magnificat’ recording with the Balthasar Neumann Choir is an excellent example of this.] These are generally voices with some voice training (often limited to a specialized repertoire such as church music only and being taught by others whose voices also lack true capacity to project the words due to a limited range of voice.) Having a voice with limited strength and range does not preclude being able to give a performance where the texts are clearly understood, but it does make it considerably more difficult to achieve this lofty goal.

While it is true that Bach divided his major choirs into ‘Concertisten’ [veritable solo singers who also simultaneously served as ‘section leaders’ and ‘Ripienisten’ [the other voices singing the same voice part as the ‘Concertisten,’] it is also very possibly true that these ‘Concertisten’ were not simply Thomaner pupils with limited range abilities, but rather ‘Studiosi’ [university students] with greater vocal training and capacity. Judging from Agricola’s “Anleitung zur Singkunst” [Berlin, 1757], these voices were easily able to sing at an equally strong volume the full range of notes demanded by Bach’s arias and recitatives, in other words, there was a noticeable difference in vocal abilities between the usual Thomaner Choir boys and their counterparts at the university level. I am not certain that this distinction is clearly maintained in the modern ‘professional’ HIP choirs that perform Bach cantatas. It appears to me from my listening experiences that the weaknesses in vocal ranges are compounded when such modern HIP groups attempt to emulate the Bach model. This happens because almost all these voices, whether ‘Concertisti’/’Solisti’ or ‘Ripieni’ bear the same characteristics: a general weakening in the volume/strength of the voices in their low ranges. Somehow, the collective effort of the voices on one part, can overcome, to some degree, this inherent weakness of voices that have not been trained to sing at full capacity; but when a soloist from this group steps forth to sing an aria/recitative, the deficiency in being able to project the voice at full volume usually makes itself become known. For this reason the understanding of the German text becomes more difficult. Now the vicious cycle begins: the conductor decides to ‘support’ the ailing solo voice in the low range by using the ‘shortened declamation’ [the values of the held notes in the bc are severely reduced, effectively removing the bc support which Bach had written into the score] so that the text message might continue to be heard and understood by the listening audience. Instead of requiring that the voice be strong enough in the low range to be heard, the conductor willingly accepts the insufficiently proven Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus/Wolff etc. theory that states that the note values that Bach wrote for ‘secco’ recitatives should generally be played differently than notated. This provides then a convenient excuse for many HIP conductors faced with similar voice-range problems in the soloists to do likewise because such deviations from the score seem to have the imprimatur of the academic community.


The positive solution to this problem is to take seriously the advice given by Tosi/Agricola, advice which is geared toward providing a full range of capacity/strength for a solo voice that can be heard by an audience (without mechanical amplification) in a setting similar to the one which Bach used.

>>2) it puts the singer's dramatic nuances in the foreground<<
If the problem just discussed is remedied, then there will be no need to ‘cut back’ on the accompaniment in order to allow the singer to have greater flexibility for the dramatic expression of the words. The strength of a full voice allows for a far greater range of nuances than that of a voice of lesser capacity. What does the latter type of voice do in order to attempt to overcome its deficiencies in this regard? It may resort to whispering certain words in the text so as to provide the illusion of some variation in volume. Overcoming vocal weaknesses in this manner by sacrificing the understandability of the text should not be an option. Only when the voice operates from a base of full strength throughout its range, can it do justice to the dramatic nuances that may be required of it.

There is a grave danger here as well for all types of voices: Just as the Wagnerian-type voices that performed Bach cantatas (recorded in some instances c. 1930-1960) tended to overly dramatize the recitatives (and even arias) as if they were performing in an opera, there is comparable danger present for HIP singers with a lesser vocal capacity to resort to extreme dramatic expression [on a lower scale of volume, of course.] It is a well known fact that some singers are better actors than singers and vice versa. There may be an effort here to compensate for the weakness of the voice by over-emphasizing the rhetorical elements which are already built into the music by Bach and do not need extreme techniques to reveal the emotional content of the text.

>>3) it provides rhythmic punctuation which I find appropriate in this context<<
Such ‘rhythmic punctuation’ [the ‘figured chord’] can easily be provided by a harpsichord without, at the same time, causing the other bc instrument(s) to abruptly terminate the held note in the bc as indicated in the score.

>>4) in my opinion, based on my own knowledge of the sources and the repertoire, it positions Bach cantatas within the context of musical life of his day and this helps me to understand the genius of Bach and his contemporaries better.<<
I am glad you can feel quite secure in this opinion, one with which I per, based upon by research thus far, can not concur.

Neil Halliday wrote (December 8, 2003):
Douglas writes: " None of this evidence is absolutely conclusive with regards to Bach cantatas and passions. But each conductor/performer must experiment and draw their own conclusions".
Agreed, and hopefully, we will not have a situation where one particular method is adopted as orthodoxy, as appears to be the case at this present time.

For my part, I react negatively to the intrusion of 'recitation' into the flow of movements of beautiful and intricate music. I need the 'entrancing' effect of long-held organ chords to hold my attention to a single vocalist singing free-form words, the musical structure of which only becomes apparent when the harmonic structure of the recitative is revealed by the long-held chords (indicated by the figured bass).

In the light of Douglas's first three points in favour of short accompaniment, I might ask - how does he cope with accompanied recitatives, many of which are in identical form to so-called secco recitatives? This is what Richter, and others achieve, namely, they transform all recitative into the form of the usual and attractive accompanied recitative - a most desirable outcome, in my opinion.

(This is especially true of the church cantatas, in which the recitatives in no way 'narrate' a story, as is the case with sections of the recitatives in the passions.)

In conclusion, where are the conductors willing to step outside the current orthodoxy?

Johan van Veen wrote (December 8, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] The main issue in Douglas Amrine's posting was this:
"So, it would seem extremely misleading for Mr Braatz to cite Dreyfus (and by extension, Christoph Wolff) in support of his views, when it is clear that Dreyfus's own interpretation of the sources is diametrically opposed to that of Braatz."

Can we assume that, considering the fact that he doesn't reply to this statement, he admits Douglas is right?

In his reply Mr Braatz reacts to Douglas Amrine's own position. That is allright, but in concentrating on that he diverts the readers's attention from what is the main issue here. That is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

In his reaction to Douglas Amrine's own views he goes on with his ritual singer-bashing, based on a basically unhistoric view of the function of singing in the pre-romantic era.

The statement that, in his recording of Bach's Magnificat, Hengelbrock is using members of the choir for the solo parts, and is therefore forced to accept their technical weaknesses is factual wrong. It is the other way round: his choir - the Balthasar-Neumann-Chor - consists to a large extent of singers who have a career as solo singers. People like Dorothee Mields, Constanze Backes, Detlef Bratschke, Beat Duddeck, Bernhard Landauer, Hermann Oswald, Martin Post, Hans-Jörg Mammel, Wolf Matthias Friedrich and Johannes Happel - to mention only those I know of - are all respected singers, mostly - but in some cases not only - in the early music scene. It is because they are active as solo singers that they are in the choir.

If there is one singer in this list who can't be accused of having a weak voice it is the bass Wolf Matthias Friedrich. In particular his low register is very strong. He has amply displayed that in compositions by the German 17th century composer Karl Förster, himself a bass with a wide range, whose compositions reflect that.

What Mr Braatz doesn't want to accept is that the way they sing Bach's Magnificat - and other music - is a matter of choice, not of a lack of technical abilities. I can't see any reason why a respected conductor like Thomas Hengelbrock wouldn't be able to attract other singers, who are more of Mr Braatz's ideal. But apparently he didn't want them. Because he fully understands what this music requires.

Mr Braatz may like whatever he wants, but shouldn't present his personal preferences as the original intentions of the composers.

On the basis of his writings I can only come to one conclusion: not only he doesn't understand baroque music, he even doesn't like it.



Continue on Part 11


Articles: The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives [Thomas Braatz] | Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works [Bradley Lehman]
Discussions of Recitatives:
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 | Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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Last update: ýJanuary 29, 2005 ý15:30:55