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Recitatives in Bach’s Vocal Works

Part 11

 

 

Continue from Part 10

Recitativo secco
Recitativo secco, and Schreier's XO
No not Niedt again!
Recitativo secco & Baroque style
Lengthened accompaniment
Dreyfus, Williams, and Mendel: read them for yourself

Johan van Daele
wrote (December 17, 2003):
I have a question about baroque style : In the recitativo secco of the Weihnachts-Oratorium, Bach always writes long notes for the organ. For better understanding of the text, it is better to cut off these notes into shorter notes. Is this true or not ??

Do you know some book where I can find the final answer about this, or is it still a complex matter ?

Thanks in advance for your advice.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (December 17, 2003):
[To Johan van Daele] This argument has been discussed many times on this list (and it always generated flames...). You can read a large and detailed discussion here :
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz.htm & here
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz-FB.htm

Riccardo Nughes wrote (December 17, 2003):
Read also here, obviosly: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Plain-Recitative[Lehman].htm
And all the discussions made (see the links at the bottom).

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 17, 2003):
[To Riccardo Nughes] My newer version (from September 2003) is here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm

But as you pointed out, this argument has been discussed many times on this list (and it always generated flames...). As I said in September, I will not discuss it here.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 17, 2003):
Recitativo secco, and Schreier's XO

[To Hohan van Daeele] As already noted in previous responses, this subject has been discussed to death on this list (and the Bach Recordings list, too); and most of the relevant references are already cited in the links that have been suggested. However, I've recently been listening to some recordings of the Christmas Oratorio, so it was interesting to see what Peter Schreier thinks about this question -- not from what he said, but from what he does. This is particularly interesting because, as a singer, Schreier experienced almost the full gamut of Bach perfomring styles which existed in his lifetime: he sang Bach's vocal music with Rudolf Mauersberger, Hans-JOachim Rotzsch, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Richter and Ton Koopman -- among others. As conductor, he presumably made his own choices as to how his recitatves would be accompanied; and these choices probably reflect, first-and-foremost, what he judged to be the most musically effective way of rendering things.

Personally, I have ambivalent feelings about Schreier: IMHO, he is one of the finest singers -- and specifically one of the finest Bach singers -- on record, but as a conductor I often him too choppy. I don't object to light articulation in Bach, quite the contrary -- but Schreier's relentless staccati can often be distracting. I have few such reservations about his Christmas Oratorio (hence: XO), however: it is one of his most sensitive and flexible recordings. In detailed comparisons, it might fall short of some competitors, but when I listen to it on its own, I have few reservations. In this recording, Schreier doubles as Evangelist and conducotr.

As Evangelist, this constitutes Schreier's fourth recording of the XO: he had already sang the Evangelist (and arias) with Martin Flamig, Nikolaus Harnoncourt (on a video production -- not on Harnoncourt's commercial audio recording) and Helmuth Rilling. I have yet to hear the Rilling; but on that recording, Schreier was probably accompanied by fully sustained chords. I know that was the case in Flamig's recording. Harnoncourt, on the other hand, provided him with shortened accompaniment. Schreier's singing shines with both types. As conductor/singer, however, he had the option of making his own choice. (BTW: I'm not sure whether all conductors actually tell the continuo players how to accompany in recitatives. I wouldn't be surprised if some conducotrs simply leave that aspect to be negotiated between players and singers.)

In his own recording, Schreier mostly opts for short accompaniment. That is, left ot his own devices, he prefers not to have all chords sustained to full notated length. (This wasn't always his preference: when he recorded the secular cantatas, some years earlier, he opted for fully sustained chords). However, the degree of shortening is not always the same: sometimes a chord is lifted almost immediately after being struck, sometimes it is allowed to ring out a bit longer. Finally, in some recitatives -- for example in the recitative "Und sie kamen eilend" (Christmas Oratorio, Cantata 3, no. 30) -- he does have all chords sustained to full notated length; so clearly he considers this another viable option.

The key word, then, is flexibility. Schreier and his players do not consistently stick to the same policy throughout; they modulate their playing, presumaly to match the degree and amount of support which Schreier felt best suited his singing at that moment. I'd be very surprised if, during reheasals, Schreier gave his players a list, telling them in advance exactly how long to hold each note; more likely, he gave them "on-the-spot" cues, as I've seen him do in live concerts. On another day, he would have probably opted for the same general policy, but would have made different choices on specific chords and recitatives.

This also returns us to a point Brad made a few days ago:
< I'm annoyed by phrases such as "the vocalist is easily and clearly heard" below, and somebody else's recent assertion: "The recitative is performed in a literalist manner with notes sustained for their indicated length. Needless to say, with Hotter's full voice, the text comes through with absolute clarity." The implication is that any musician who was adequately prepared and trained and who knew music would do it Hotter's (or whosever) way, and that everybody else is therefore inadequate in some way (lacking a "full voice" or whatever). >

This is a case in point. Schreier had no problem projecting his voice over sustained chords in the Flamig and (presumably) Rilling recordings; that's not why he opted for shortened accompaniment. I also find it difficult to believe that he did so solely because he was convinced by historical evidence, though that might have played a part. Most likely, he found this the most musically effective way of achieving flexibility in recitatives. He certainly wasn't adhering to a fixed "doctrine' (if he were, he'd have employed uniform shortness throughout, not the kind of flexible approach he actually adopted).

Now obviously, I wouldn't say Schreier's solution is correct because it's Schreier's solution. I find it musically convincing; others might think that Schreier was better served by the fully-sustained accompaniments he received from other conductors than by the approach he himself opted for. What it does prove -- if proof was necessary -- is that seriuos musicians, and well-trained singers, could have serious musical reasons to prefer short accompaniment, at least for some recitatives.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 17, 2003):
Uri Golomb stated his opinion: >> What it does prove --if proof was necessary -- is that seriuos musicians, and well-trained singers, could have serious musical reasons to prefer short accompaniment, at least for some recitatives.<<
One not so serious reason which is possible while we are speculating wildly without having heard or read any statement by Schreier on this matter is:

Schreier must have performed the XO (and a number of Bach’s other rather popular works that are performed year after year) many times during his career as a singer. It is also possible, that, sifor ‘kicks’ [for doing something differently than he had ever done so before – a musician may tire of singing the same music over and over again without attempting something different], Schreier decided to ‘play with’ the possibility of using shortened accompaniment, particularly since this convention ‘has taken root’ in many, if not most, current performances of Bach’s secco recitatives. Schreier might have thought: “Let’s just try it on for size” or “This is what some listener’s have been trained to expect from listening to their HIP recordings, so let’s give them a little of what they’re expecting from this performance” or “I’ll have to prove that I am still with it (with things currently in vogue) and not a member of that older generation.”

More seriously, Schreier, knowledgably and appropriately, may have actually applied one or more of the exceptional situations for shortening the bc accompaniment in secco recitatives as given by Heinichen, in what seems to be the only reliable document on shortened-bass-secco-recitative accompaniment from the time and place when Bach was producing most of the works containing these secco recitatives. This document by Heinichen clearly states that the chords on the organ are generally played for the full length of the duration of the notes/chords indicated. Anything else that occurs in a performance which differs from this ‘rule’ is considered an exception (Heinichen proceeds to give a rather complete, yet open-ended list of some of the exceptions following this statement regarding the ‘rule’ = the generally accepted convention.) I am not going to guess which unusual circumstances Schreier may have encountered and then have applied according to Heinichen, if this scenario for Schreier’s choices in the XO recitative performance can even be considered at all amidst all the other speculations which Uri has put forth.

Uri, read Heinichen’s statement and you will see that it is not a fixed doctrine, certainly not as fixed as Harnoncourt’s doctrine on this matter is [which I quoted yesterday as follows:]

So haben die Orgel und das Cello bei den Seccorezitativen die Baßtöne niemals ausgehalten.“ [„So it is the case {or it is a fact} that the organ and the violoncello never [my emphasis] held out [for their fully notated values] the bass notes in the secco recitatives [of Bach’s church music – cantatas, oratorios, passions, etc.]

And yet Heinichen’s general, overriding ‘rule’/’convention for playing the bc of secco recitatives' reads as follows [as he instructs the keyboard player]: “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.” This would mean playing, for the most part, Bach's secco recitatives just as he had notated them. Heinichen’s statement, however, is diametrically opposed to Harnoncourt’s, and yet Harnoncourt’s doctrine has prevailed for the most part ever since his recordings and books have become widespread.

A whole generation of performers and listeners have been ‘indoctrinated’ by such authoritarian statements which misread the applicable historical evidence, meager as it may be. By hearing this Harnoncourt-like treatment of Bach's secco recitatives repeatedly over decades, many performers and listeners (even those with university degrees in music/musicology) have come to believe in this doctrine and accept it unthinkingly; and they will even resort to attempting vehemently to defend it at all costs by attempting to denigrate anyone who might even consider holding another opinion in this matter. It should make some people think and wonder about the nature of this phenomenon.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 17, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Schreier must have performed the XO (and a number of Bach's other rather popular works that are performed year after year) many times during his career as a singer. It is also possible, that, simply for 'kicks' [for doing something differently than he had ever done so before - a musician may tire of singing the same music over and over again without attempting something different], Schreier decided to 'play with' the possibility of using shortened accompaniment, particularly since this convention 'has taken root' in many, if not most, current performances of Bach's secco recitatives. Schreier might have thought: "Let's just try it on for size" or "This is what some listener's have been trained to expect from listening to their HIP recordings, so let's give them a little of what they're expecting from this performance" or "I'll have to prove that I am still with it (with things currently in vogue) and not a member of that older generation." >
So: Schreier was willing to do something he himself found unconvincing, just to keep up with fashion? (He certainly wasn't trying anything out for size: he knew what it would sound like, he has experienced all types of accompaniment several times before making that recording). And he allowed that to be preserved for posterity, on a commercial recording -- not only in his XO, but also in his SJP? I don't find that very likely
.
(BTW: I'm talking about his 1988 SJP -- I don't know his 2001 version; and I should also check what he's done when he conducted solo cantatas with Barbara Hendricks and Olaf Baer) He was, probably, influenced partly by Harnoncourt -- he has expressed admiration for him, and worked with him many times. But he also expressed admiration for Karajan, Mauersberger, Richter, and others... And he didn't entirely copy any of them.

And as for his observing the Heinichen rule -- let met just repeat: Schreier employs short accompaniment as the rule; and full-length as the exception, in the XO and SJP alike.

My own rule of thumb is: without evidence to the contrary, I assume that musicians -- especially a professional, experienced musician -- play and sing the way they do because they believe it to be a musically appropriate. I stick to this assumption even if I, myself, am not convinced. (For example, as I said, I often find Schreier's use of staccato distracting and annoying; but I still believe that he found it musically appropriate. I do not say: "I find this unmusical, thereofre he must have had an ulterior motive"). I assume good faith on behalf of the musicians. I recognise that sometimes ulterior motives sneak in; but I would want to see some evidence for it before jumping to conclusions Now, in the absence of solid evidence, "good faith" and "ulterior motive" are both assumptions. Maybe I'm being naive in taking the former as the starting-point. But personally, I'd rather be naive than cynical.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 17, 2003):
Use and translation of Heinichen

Somebody wrote: < I have no reason to doubt Thomas's quotations regarding Heinichen or the Verri brothers etc.; in any case, I don't see myself as being led by a 'pied piper', and if I have to live with the knowledge that my tastes are anachronistic, I will accept that reality. >
I would simply advise caution.

For example: Braatz' single "reliable" source (in his opinion) is Heinichen, to the exclusion of others; and indeed he has presented the original German version of the Heinichen excerpt in April 2003, archived at the middle of: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz-FB.htm

But immediately thereafter, Braatz gives HIS OWN GLOSSED TRANSLATION OF IT replete with his own biases and "understandings", noted in his [brackets] and in the casting of his phrases...followed by his own summary of the issues, his even looser paraphrase. And, he has been thereafter reacting to his own translation and reading of Heinichen, preaching from it!

To get some idea of his potential distortions, to judge it for yourself (along with the German), compare this English translation found on page 76 of Laurence Dreyfus' book, which Dreyfus says is adapted from Arthur Mendel's 1950 article (which I have confirmed, also having Mendel's article in front of me). Here is Dreyfus' translation, which mait through the peer review for the publication of his book:

"The way to play the recitative properly, however, varies greatly according to the instruments on which it is played. In church recitatives, since organ pipes that echo and hum are involved, no complications are needed, for one mostly just strikes the notes flat down and the hands remain lying on the keys without further ceremony until another chord follows, which is held out in its turn.... But if the hands are lifted from the keys immediately after striking a new chord, so that a rest takes the place of the notes, this is done according to the circumstances obtaining, the better to hear and observe either the singer or the instruments that sometimes accompany the recitative. Or else one finds other reasons to lift the hands somewhat; for example, because the bass sometimes remains on one note and chord for three, four or more measures, and consequently one's ear becomes irked by the constant monotony of the humming organ pipes. All these questions must be settled by the taste and judgment of the accompanist."

And here is Mendel's, from 1950, with the [bracketed] part also Mendel's own:

"The manner and nature of the proper treatment of the recitative, however, varies greatly according to the instruments on which it is played. In church recitatives, since one has to do with organ pipes which hum and continue to sound, no elaborations are needed, for one just puts the keys down flatly [i.e., not arpeggiated, as on the harpsichord], and the hands remain lying on the keys without further ceremony until another chord follows, which is held out in its turn. When, on the other hand, the hands are lifted at once from the keys, immediately after striking a new chord, so that a rest takes the place of the notes, this is done according to the circumstances obtaining, the better to hear and observe either the singer or the instruments that sometimes accompany the recitative. Or some other reason is found to lift the hands somewhat, as for example, the fact that the bass sometimes remains upon one note and chord for 3, 4, or more measures, and consequently the steady, monotonous tone of the humming organ-pipes becomes irksome to the ear. All these questions must be settled by the taste and judgment of the accompanist."

Peter Williams in his 1969 article didn't reproduce Heinichen's text (since Mendel had already done so), or make any major point one way or another based on Heinichen at all; he simply remarked about Heinichen: "Heinichen (1711) wrote that the player could either keep the keys down or not." This source was, to Williams in 1969, simply not of the central importance that Braatz has given it, but merely something to touch upon in passing, to remark that accompaniment practice was not absolutely universal in all details. Williams' presentation as a whole does not stand on Heinichen; it is much, much broader than that, including relevant issues of organ registration. I've recommended this Williams article multiple times, for more than a year, but (as yet) Braatz has refused to read it; that's his choice.

Mendel was of course the chief translator of The Bach Reader in 1945 and its 1966 revision; and had a well-respected career in his professorship at Princeton University. Dreyfus and Williams similarly have impeccable credentials...but this is not about credentials. It is about responsible treatment of the evidence.

For example, Braatz in his translation speaks of "a 3 / 4 chord in the bass" but doesn't even clearly know what he is talking about(**); not that that is the only problem with it. Braatz has his own copy of Dreyfus' book; but he has preferred to give us his own translation of the passage, overruling peer-reviewed scholarship. That should give the careful reader some pause.

My own command of German is nothing special; merely passable. But I know enough to recognize that Braatz' translation is a distortion, and that the expert translations given by Mendel and Dreyfus are more accurate ones.

(**) There is no such thing as "a 3 / 4 chord in the bass" in thoroughbass practice; nor does Heinichen's text in German say there is. Even if somebody with a great stretch of the imagination took that as a "4/3" chord, i.e. an inverted seventh chord, it still would make no sense in the context of the passage, treating that one chord spacing as anything special. That's obvious from fundamental knowledge of thoroughbass. It's just a Braatzian error of translation.

=====

I have no wish to debate the value of this Heinichen source here, or the relative merits of Dreyfus/Mendel/Williams/et al, opening up that debate yet again; I am simply pointing out that Mr Braatz himself started off with the foot of constructing his own version of Heinichen, as an amateur researcher overruling two scholars who worked on this previously, and he has been extolling his personal understanding of Heinichen ever since. That process, to me, seems rather shady...to say the least.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 18, 2003):
Brad Lehman correctly pointed out and admitted that his German was insufficient to render a judgment in regard to my translation:
“Or there may also be other reasons to lift your hands up prematurely from the chord you are playing: it could possibly be a 3 / 4 chord in the bass, or a single note with its figured bass chord is held for several measures whereby the steadily humming [this could also mean ‘vibrating’] pipes of the organ could become unpleasant to listen to. All of these things are left to the judgment and pleasure of the individual who is playing the figured bass.”

Which should read:

“Or there might also be other reasons [in the list of certain special instances when both hands should not remain on the keys holding out the full value of the notes] for lifting the hands for just a bit, for example, when the basso continuo continues playing the same note and chord for 3 or 4 measures and, as a result, a listener’s hearing can be disturbed [a listener can become annoyed] by the buzzing pipes [of the organ] playing a single tone [very likely this means ‘chord’ here.]”

This was a legitimate/honest error on my part caused by my word processor which automatically changed the word ‘und’ to ‘Und’ because a period came after the ‘4.’ Of course, this sort of thing would never happen to an expert like Mendel because this was his life’s work which was subject to peer review. It is interesting that it took you so long to find my error!

In regard to the above, which, in reality, is really a ‘red herring’ leading away from the critical main statement which I did translate correctly, I read somewhere [I can not remember where] that a good explanation for the ‘annoying buzzing’ of the organ pipes might be that many church organs were not yet as comfortably tuned [tunings which were essentially ‘built into’ the organs with the older temperaments rather than the ‘wohltemperierte’ or almost equal temperaments which were just being phased in at the time. The musicians as well as the audience would have heard some of these chords as being rather ‘out-of-tune’ which is possibly implied by the ‘annoying buzzing’ of the organ pipes. Of course, there may have been other physical imperfections in the church organ that would need to be avoided as much as possible (ciphers, etc.) Holding out such a ‘noisy’ or ‘out-of-tune‘ chord would be an affront to the musical ear and would reveal a lack of musical taste on the part of the organist.

I do not use English translations of German texts done by others and prefer to ‘struggle’ with the original on my own. I did not use Dreyfus’ translation for that reason. I am glad to see that Mendel’s does not deviate very far at all from what I discovered on my own.

The translation for ‘platt’ that Mendel gives is quite reasonable [non-arpeggiated], but it can also mean ‘flat’ or ‘simply’ as one would bring down the hands normally upon the keyboard all at once without any special effort at hitting any notes before the others.

“It's just a Braatzian error of translation.”

I can just see Rumpelstilzchen doing his special dance here. Remember what happento him when someone ‘called his bluff.’
>>Braatz immediately launched an attempt to discredit Kellner and (once again) Williams without having read Williams' article. If he had simply read it, to see the context in which Williams mentions Kellner (along with Heinichen), Braatz probably would not have found it necessary to try to discredit Kellner at all! But he fell into his own trap of assuming that something was said that he would have to disagree with, and therefore try to take down: a trap he has set for himself, consistently. Hasty conclusions, and a reliance on hearsay, instead of the scientific method of studying something before criticizing it.<<
Now that the game is over, you can put your cards on the table and give us the pertinent excerpt from Williams article which gives the connection which Kellner has to the matter of secco recitatives. I think others would also like to get to know what, if anything at all, Kellner is doing in an article which purports to give credible evidence of Bach’s performance practices.

Of course, Brad, you are never guilty of doing the same when you prejudged Alfred Dürr’s analysis of the Magnificat in the NBA KB. There is very much a double standard being applied here. Think about it, Brad!

Gabriel wrote (December 18, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < The translation for ‘platt’ that Mendel gives is quite reasonable [non-arpeggiated], but it can also mean ‘flat’ or ‘simply’ as one would bring down the hands normally upon the keyboard all at once without any special effort at hitting any notes before the others. >
...and the difference is?!

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 18, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote: >> Of course, Brad, you are never guilty of doing the same when you prejudged Alfred Dürr’s analysis of the Magnificat in the NBA KB. There is very much a double standard being applied here. Think about it, Brad!<<
Tu quoque is an invalid method of argumentation. Look it up, if you need to. http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/sherm3.htm

(Shermer is not an atheist, nor am I; that list from his book just happens to be hosted at such a site, by his permission.)

I'm not even going to bother pointing out the other problems in your postings, as it would be a waste of my time; anyone who cares to can sort them out themselves by going through Shermer's list.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 18, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Two questions:

1.) Is the Heinichin (or Heinichen {more correctly(?)] that is being discussed Johann David Heinichen? If so, then it might be questionable to use him as an authoirity in this subject since he died 6 years after Bach acquired the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig. I would have probably looked more to Mattheson, Gottfried Walther, and other theoreticians of the time.

2.) If indeed it is Johann David Heinichen that is the one in question, why use him instead of a Leipzig theoretician (if any) or music commentator? After all, what is/was common practice in Dresden (where Johann David Heinichen was employed) might not be true in Leipzig. Or, better yet, a Thuringian theoretician, since Bach often performed and composed in the Thuringian style more than the Saxon style.

Jason Marmaras wrote (December 18, 2003)
[To Johan van Daele] I answer to some questions to the best of my ability and knowledge:

< I have a question about baroque style: >
I am myself but a student of music (and keenly interested in baroque music), but I have a teacher that I think is of the best (perhaps a foolish judgement, since I have not been taught baroque by anyone else) or at least in Greece (he studied Renaissance and Baroque music in the Royal Academy of London, I think); anyway, he suggests that baroque isn't just trills and stacatti (which I of course believe entirely, but there are some people, at least here, that are stuck on 'stacatti and trills'...). Anyway, he says that the baroque style is the pursuit of 'rhetorical' interpretation of the written music into the played; i.e., trying to follow and 'enforce' the text s meaning, in composing and playing, with sound-image imitations, harmonic and melodic symbolism, shapes, etc. that must - or rather are to - be played or sung in the corresponding mood. And most everything else comes second to that (is this a Greek idiom? anyway, if yes, "comes...that" = is less important than that). He says also that "it is a respectable opinion, and its expression (i.e., playing thus) is acceptable"; when using such terms as 'acceptable', he means for a HIP (what are those initials exactly?) performance (anyway performance in a style near that of the time of, in this case, Bach).

< In the recitativo secco of the Weihnachts-Oratorium, Bach always writes long notes for the organ. For better understanding of the text, it is better to cut off these notes into shorter notes. Is this true or not ?? >
According to the 'teachings' of my ... teacher, in a 'very baroque' performance (but perhaps not recording*), no. The job of everyone in a baroque consort/ensemble/..., if they want to achieve a 'historical' approach [and especially in the recitativi], is to complement the meaning of the text. As such, the organ should play long or short, loud or more silent (stops), many or fewer notes, according to the meaning of the text.

* a (live) performance need be a bit more lively, at least in his opinion.

< Do you know some book where I can find the final answer about this, or is it still a complex matter ? I guess it must be... I regret I know too little of bibliography to help you >
..

< thanks in advance for your advice. >
If I deserve any thanks - offered any help, that is - I humbly thanks you.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 19, 2003):
[To Jason Martmaras] Jason, your teacher sounds wise! :) Expressivity according to the meaning of the text.

As for books and articles about recitative style, I have listed some at my page: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/recits.htm
in the "Resources and further reading" section.

"HIP" = "Historically Informed Performance"

Hope this helps,

Thomas Braatz wrote (Decembe 19, 2003):
No not Niedt again!

Not Niedt again!!!

Niedt ist eine Niete.

The adherents of the Schering/Mendel/Leonhardt/Harnoncourt/Dreyfus/Williams, etc. theory of ‘short declamation’ or ‘the shortened accompaniment for secco recitatives in Bach’s sacred works’ continue to rely very strongly upon a statement written by

Friedrich Erhard Niedt, in his “Musicalische Handleitung Pt. III“ (Hamburg, 1717), a work published posthumously [he probably had not finished writing, polishing, and editing his text] which states: [the following original texts and translations are from Laurence Dreyfus’ book, “Bach’s Continuo Group” (Harvard University Press, 1987, pp. 77-79 and 238]:

[End of paragraph 15?] „Von [den Herren Organisten und Bassisten] bitte ich mir aus, daß NB. wenn ein Recitativ vorkommt, und zwey bis drey gantzer Tacte haltend gesetzt ist, sie nicht mehr thun, als bey jeder neuen Note, die da vor kommt, einen Anschlag oder Anstoß zugeben, und dann so lange einhalten, bis wiederum eine neue Note erfolge. Ferner, daß sie bey denen Kadentzen die Noten nicht so lange aushalten/als sie geschrieben stehen/sondern gleich zur folgenden schreiten.

16. Wo überm General-Bass in denen Recitativen Ziffern gesetzt sind / so observire der accompagnierende Bassist wohl / ob der Sänger bey den selben und dem Accord feste bleibe / da er dann solche zu exprimiren eben nicht nöthig hat; Wo aber der Sänger aus dem Thon oder Accord fällt / kann er derselben Ziffern ihre Bedeutung aufm Clavier oder Orgel berühren / damit der Sänger sich wieder auf den rechten Weg helffen könne; als Z. E. es stünde folgendes Recitativ:"

„To [the organist and the bass players] I must insist that, nota bene, when they encounter a recitative with two to three measures set in sustained values, they do no more than play the beginning of each new note that appears and then pause until a new note follows in turn.” [* 'and then pause until' = 'dann so lange einhalten, bis']

Herc. 100 words of the original text as shown on p. 79 are not translated, but then Dreyfus continues with a quotation not from this section:

“The bass notes should be played as they are notated here in the bass in black; and the same should be observed in all recitatives, if they are to sound properly and not rattle like an old mill wheel.”

The latter statement/translation is not given in its original by Dreyfus, since he assumes that the reader will take his translation on faith. This is not a reliable or acceptable scholarly method, particularly since Dreyfus has already ‘cut up’ these statements so that the reader is unable to see them in context without Dreyfus’ own interspersed argumentative commentaries.

Taken at face value [I have already criticized from another standpoint the problems associated with choosing Niedt to prove anything that might apply to Bach’s performance practice], Dreyfus’ explication exhibits some major problems in his interpretation of this source:

1) According to Dreyfus, who supplies the missing words from a context which we are unable to see, Niedt is speaking to organists and bass players as separate groups that are being addressed according to the special musical tasks they need to perform for which Niedt gives some recommendations. [Bach, BTW, uses Niedt's choice of word ‘Bassist’ to refer to a bass singer, a usage which makes no sense here, where the likely meaning would be the low bass string instruments which are bowed: violone (or double-bass, 16-ft. range type instrument) and possibly violoncello as well.]

2) At times Niedt seems to be addressing only the organist(s), and at other times the remaining continuo group (mainly the very low string instruments.)

3) There is a problem with the translation of ‘einhalten’ which in the DWB (Grimm Bros.) can have contradictory meanings: ‘stopping’ vs. ‘holding onto.’ You can ‘stop a movement’ but you can also ‘continue, adhere to, keep going or holding onto a course or plan. Without examining the context of this statement or being able to read Niedt’s mind, there is a 50/50 chance that one or the other meaning may be the correct one. Let me supply the proper context: Niedt is simply copying (trying to use different words for) the much clearer statement by Heinichen, the greater musician and composer, [honestly, have you ever heard a decent composition by Niedt?] from his {Heinichen's} book that was published six years earlier in the same city, Hamburg. [Dreyfus, p. 76]

4) Because Dreyfus is beginning with a false, misleading premise, he becomes confused with Heinichen’s very clear statement and actually calls it ‘puzzling.’ In the back of his mind Dreyfus’ thinking is being pushed into the mold created by the Schering etc. theory and he thinks he knows how Niedt should be translated to fit that mold and thus uphold the theory that Dreyfus wishes to further substantiate. Dreyfus caught inside of his own box, is unable to climb out to obtain a clear perspective over the limited evidence which he has before him. This is why he translates ‘einhalten’ as ‘pause,’ and not as ‘holding on.’

Once ‘einhalten’ is properly translated as ‘holding on,’ the puzzle is easily solved. Niedt has simply copied what Heinichen stated earlier in his book: “Normally the bc notes and their figured chords are held for their full duration as notated in the score.” Now everything begins to make more sense, for why would two statements written probably less than 6 years apart and published in the same city differ so radically from each other? Without blinking an eyelash, Dreyfus simply accepts this situation as a given fact without even standing back to consider how unusual and contrary to expectations such statements are when placed in proximity of each other.

5) Here is my translation of Niedt’s statement:

“I request of both the organist(s) and bass player(s) that, and mark this well, when they play a recitative which is composed with long value notes that can last as long as two or three entire measures, they should simply do the following: wherever they see a new note [a bc note with a figure indicating the chord]: they should strike or play this note [with the chord] and then hold it just so long until another new note [with chord] follows it when this process is repeated.” [For literalists who wish to see a closer, but more awkward translation: “Of the organists and bass players I ask that, nota bene, if a recitative occurs, and is composed with 2 to 3 entire measures being held, they should not do more than, in the case of each new note that appears, allow a chord to be struck or played, and then hold on to it for so long until once again a new note follows it.”

6) In paragraph 16 above, Niedt, not having had a chance to carefully revise his statement, encounters some difficulties in addressing the two groups that make up the continuo group: organist vs. low string bass players At first he seems to be saying the following to the second group:

“If you happen to see the figures over the bass notes in the bc that you are playing from, then you, as a string bass player must pay close attention to the fact whether the singer remains steadfastly within the chordal structure dictated by the figures since it is not necessary for him to express these [this very poorly constructed sentence defies a reasonably certain translation – the pronoun reference seems to be to the singer, but why would the singer not find it necessary to express musically the figured chords – or does the pronoun refer incorrectly back to the bass player [remember that Bach always uses “Bassist” to refer to the bass voice singer, not to the bass string player and certainly never to the organist playing the figured bass] in which case the word ‘exprimiren’ (to express) does not fit. In any case, [continuing with this passage,] wherever the singer loses the note/pitch or does not agree with the chord indicated in the score, the organist/keyboard player [the focus has suddenly shifted to the organist/keyboard player] can help out the situation by reiterating the chords on the harpsichord or the organ so that the singer can help himself/herself find his/her way back on the right path, as indicated, for example, in the following recitative:

[Dreyfus has printed out this example on p. 79 and follows it with a translation for which he withholds the original German:]

“The bass notes should be played as they are notated here in the bass in black; and the same should be observed in all recitatives, if they are to sound properly and not rattle like an old mill wheel.”

7) Amazingly, Dreyfus finds nothing really ‘puzzling’ here as with Heinichen, but to Dreyfus' credit, he does mention the discrepancy existing within Niedt's statements which seem ‘to restrict short accompaniment to bass notes at least two measure in length’, while the example he provides has all white notes consistently reduced to quarter notes. This does not, however, really bother Dreyfus. On the contrary, he now claims that Niedt was ‘the first to prescribe short accompaniment in all secco recitatives.’ What a marvelous leap of faith! A much better explanation for the example that Niedt gave is that Niedt is addressing the low string players (16 ft.) whose instruments ‘rattle like an old mill wheel.’ This means that while the organ is still playing and holding the chords for their full value (as indicated in paragraph 15,) the ‘double-bass’ strings are being asked to shorten continually their long notes so as not to be distracting. The paragraph preceding the example is quite clearly mangled and in dire need of rewriting in order to achieve clarity. Since we are left here with a confusing, or an almost completely not understandable statement, which can not be seriously quoted as a substantial pillar upon which the theory of shortened accompaniment should rest, we need to approach it from the first paragraph quoted, where the distinction between organist(s) and bass player(s) is clearly made. Comparing this confusing unfinished, unpolished, unedited statement by Niedt with the clarity offered by Heinichen’s statement, which is in no way clouby such difficulties of understanding caused by desperately attempting to prove a theory, it becomes clear that Niedt, whose ideas here were not original or the first of their kind, was essentially saying the same thing as Heinichen did 6 years earlier:

a) normally the chords on the organ are held for their full value until the next chord in the bc appears

b) all the bc players must ‘follow’ the singer who is expressing the music and may take liberties with the notation [strict time adherence] which is given by the composer as a guide [this 'non-literalist' approach has always been present in the best original sources - it simply signifies that absolutely strict adherence to a regular beat within a secco recitative is not appropriate, but rather that the bc must adjust their playing to follow the lead given by the singer who is expected to take some liberties with the rhythm and length of the notes at written in the score. This is not a license for eviscerating a Bach secco recitative by shortening incredibly the values of the long notes. Such an extremist approach would be abhorrent to good musical taste.]

c) loud, buzzing instruments in the bass (likewise organs with ciphers or out-of-tune chords) should automatically play shortened notes where longer notes are written
[Bach, on occasion, would have the bassoon(s) play shorter notes, possibly because they too might have tended to ‘buzz’ and even perhaps overwhelm the voice in a recitative. This does not mean that Bach would have shortened the long notes being played by the organ or held gently by a violoncello.]

Final thought:

Niedt, if we are even to allow him to be a viable source, is essentially in agreement with Heinichen, a fact which is not remarkable since it appears that Niedt is essentially a copy-cat who had some serious difficulties in explaining what he was trying to say. Unfortunately, the confusion created by his poorly written instructions has caused numerous musicologists to misconstrue the importance of this unreliable evidence which they offer in support of a theory that is in dire need of proof. Niedt’s quotation is unable to provide such a foundation and ought for this reason to be disqualified from consideration for the purpose of proving the ‘shortened accompaniment of secco recitatives in Bach’s sacred works.’

BTW 'zugeben' (is a separable verb in Niedt's original) = “to allow” and not simply to be construed as 'zu geben' = "to give"

also derived from 'zugeben' is

'Zugabe' = coda, den Anhang oder die Zugabe in einigen also genannten canonibus infinitis, damit die Stimmen miteinander zugleich aufhören können. J. G. Walther, Musicalisches Lexicon, 1732, p. 174 [notice the sense of continuing the voices - adding additional musical material - until they eventually, together, can find a conclusion at some point in the future.]

Addendum:

Here is a very misleading statement by Dale E. Monson and Jack Westrup from the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003) based upon pseudo-research supplied by all the members of the "we-believe-in-the-shortened-accompaniment-for-Bach's-secco-recitative" team:

>>The most widespread accompanimental style for sacred recitative in early 18th-century Germany apparently was ‘short declamation’, or a performance in which tied semibreves and minims in the continuo line were played as brief strokes, often transcribed in contemporary theory treatises (Heinichen, Niedt, Kellner, Telemann and others) as crotchets.<<

Fortunately, the 'weasel-word' "apparently" will help these writers 'get off the hook' to some extent. It will be left to the discerning reader to decide what is really going on here. I think I have adequately described how we get from point A to point B.

Jack Botelho wrote (December 19, 2003):
< I am myself but a student of music (and keenly interested in baroque music), but I have a teacher that I think is of the best (perhaps a foolish judgement, since I have not been taught baroque by anyone else) or at least in Greece (he studied Renaissance and Baroque music in the Royal Academy of London, I think); anyway, he suggests that baroque isn't just trills and stacatti (which I of course believe entirely, but there are some people, at least here, that are stuck on 'stacatti and trills'...). Anyway, he says that the baroque style is the pursuit of 'rhetorical' interpretation of the written music into the played; i.e., trying to follow and 'enforce' the text is meaning, in composing and playing, with sound-image imitations, harmonic and melodic symbolism, shapes, etc. that must - or rather are to - be played or sung in the corresponding mood. And most everything else comes second to that ... >
<snip>
Nice to read about the baroque style being the "pursuit of a rhetorical interpretation of the written music into the played ..."

With regard to sound-image imitations, harmonic and melodic symbolism, "shapes" that are to be played or sung in a corresponding mood, it would be interesting to explore on this list, with regard to a cantata of Bach, what some of these "rhetorical motifs" are.

It is no secret that the course of interpretation of Bach's music has become very individualized (this makes for multiple recordings for happy collectors and more power to them) but in the baroque era, music sought to express common, shared, basic, feelings and expressions. Why was such common expression important?:Order. In the baroque age rampant individualistic expression would have been viewed as a dangerous threat to the established hierarchical norm and would have been scorned and surpressed. However, as we know, social and political ideas fed by the enlightenment would result in revolution and change. My point: musicians should concentrate on expressing [the cantatas] according to broad, basic, rhetorical expression, and if the result sounds "hum-drum", the problem may have to do the modern desire to be different and individualistic - characteristics foreign to Bach's time and intent.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 19, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/6805
< Not Niedt again!!!
Niedt ist eine Niete. (...) >
Tom, there's your catch-phrase again (translation: "Niedt is a washout [and therefore not worth listening to]"), and etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. And that "niete" assessment is your conjecture piled on top of further conjecture by authors of your beloved MGG...just some clever punnery to try to make us believe Bach could not have been stupid enough to take him seriously, so we (therefore) should not either. It's your attempt to assassinate Niedt's character, and to make us believe that everybody who cites Niedt is also an incompetent fool. We've been through this before, and it's clearly archived.

Your further objections in this posting today are empty argumentation in attempt to knock off the reliability of Laurence Dreyfus. Dreyfus' crime is that he has written something you personally disagree with, and that you wish had no merit. Too bad for Dreyfus.

Arthur Mendel provided some of the Niedt material (on pp 348-9, The Musical Quarterly, July 1950) in a side-by-side translation of the German to English...not that you've looked at the way he used it in his article. Your focus is understandably on Dreyfus and his supposed shenanigans: a superficial analysis by you since you have not looked at Mendel's work.

Peter Williams' citations of Niedt on pp 150 and 239 of his two-part article (Music and Letters #50, 1969) also make good points about listening to the sound of the ensemble and registering the organ appropriately, and using an appropriate amount of silence as part of the performance...not that you've looked at the way he used it in his article.

You're just refusing to look at this scholarly work, despite having been told repeatedly where to go look it up (i.e. to try to be a good scholar and go visit a real library)...and then trying to discredit whatever doesn't suit you, based on the several books you have read selectively. Your approach has never swayed from this path: you read something you don't , represent it badly on these discussion lists, and thereby try to show that the writer and his sources are all wrong.

It's all a smoke-and-mirrors show by you, Thomas Braatz: an obvious attempt to make your readers lose faith in the intelligence and responsibility of real scholars, and then substitute your own cobbled-together findings.

Besides, you are absolutely wrong where you said: "Niedt has simply copied what Heinichen stated earlier in his book: (...)" Niedt died in 1708; Heinichen's book was published in 1711. The two portions of Niedt's Musicalische Handleitung were published (respectively) in 1700 and 1706 (as Mendel pointed out, which you wouldn't know since you haven't read him); and then republished several times later by Mattheson and others. Niedt did not copy Heinichen; he was already dead. Not that such details slow you down very much in your attempts to discredit everybody except Heinichen, the one source that can be forced (perhaps) to read the way you wish it to be read to support your point.

Enough of this crap, Tom. Stop trying to mislead people away from real scholarship published by experts, and stop trying to knock off everybody as if they were villains out to kill your enjoyment of the music. You're way out of your league, and your destructive campaign against everybody (meanwhile making yourself look like a "niete") is an insult to the work of people who know their business better than you do. Just quit it.

This is not an ad hominem attack; it is a forthright pointing-out of facts: that your "research" methods are invalid, your use of sources is naive and willfully selective, your conclusions are unscientific, and your argumentative strategy (trying to assassinate everybody's veracity) does not support the points you wish to make which would involve building up a positive case for literalism. Instead of supporting points, you simply attempt to destroy other people's points...as if that would therefore "prove" yours. (Shermer's fallacy #20 at: http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/sherm3.htm ) If you're not going to do any of this "research" with valid methods that respect intellectual rigor and respect the people who really know what they're talking about, just do yourself a favor (cut your losses) and quit it. Let people study the published work for themselves, instead of relying on your skewed and polemical interpretations that seek only to discredit everything.

Brad Lehman
(having entertained all this annoying nonsense and engaged its author in conversation for much, much, much too long)

Johan van Veen wrote (December 19, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] I agree that music in the baroque era - or rather, in every era before that of the 'Empfindsamkeit' - was 'impersonal'. Whereas in treatises from the renaissance and baroque musicians, in particular singers, were urged to keep a straight face all the time, in the era of the 'Empfindsamkeit' they were urged to do the opposite and to let their face express what they were singing.

Music started to express the personal feelings of the composer. A piece with a title like 'Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs Empfindungen' would have been almost impossible in the baroque era.

I don't think that your explanation is the most likely (although it could be part of it). I don't think the main cause is political or social. It is rather a matter of aesthetics and a consequence of the fact that music was still seen first and foremost as a science. It is no coincidence that so many composers of the baroque era - especially in Germany - had an academic education.

Things like rhetorics and Affekt were all matters of science.

Another important aspect is the fact that a great part of the music was composed on demand, because some people or institutions asked for them. And if a composer, like Bach, composes music for the church, it is impossible to express his personal feelings in his music.

If you argue in favour of an interpretation that is based on rhetorics, I wholeheartedly agree. I say so all the time, in my reviews of concerts and CDs for instance. But not every performer seems to be aware of its importance and not every lover of baroque music does like the outcome of a strict rhetorical approach. A rhetorical approach is a matter of choice, just like the use of period instruments etc.

I also doubt whether - like you seem to suggest - a rhetorical approach would lead to more uniformity in the interpretation of baroque music. Within the borders of rhetorics there is still room for difference.

Dale Gedcke wrote (December 19, 2003):
Recitativo secco & Baroque style

[To Johan van Veen] The description below of the form of music in the Baroque period creates the impression that the music had to be performed strictly as written. Yet, much of what I have read about trumpet music from the Baroque period claims that the performer was expected to add his own embellishments or ornamentation in the form of trills, turns, mordents, and grace notes. Apparently, this varied significantly from composer to composer, with Bach being the most rigorous about defining and specifying the embellishment figures. Some composers left out all embellishments in the notation, and expected the performer to add his own. This was somewhat of a surprise to me, because I had previously perceived that improvisation was a unique invention of the modern jazz era.

Still, the prolific ornamentation in Baroque music supports the "rhetorical" label for that era. Rhetorical meaning: "Concerned primarily with style or effect; showy or over-elaborate." (from the American Heritage Dictionary). Perhaps the financial support by royalty and wealthy churches lead to composing music that would sound royal, elegant and showy when performed in large cathedrals.

Dale Gedcke
Amateur classical and modern trumpeter

Jason Marmaras wrote (December 19, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] I answer to some questions to the best of my ability and knowledge:

< I have a question about baroque style : >
I am myself but a student of music (and keenly interested in baroque music), but I have a teacher that I think is of the best (perhaps a foolish judgement, since I have not been taught baroque by anyone else) or at least in Greece (he studied Renaissance and Baroque music in the Royal Academy of London, I think); anyway, he suggests that baroque isn't just trills and stacatti (which I of course believe entirely, but there are some people, at least here, that are stuck on 'stacatti and trills'...). Anyway, he says that the baroque style is the pursuit of 'rhetorical' interpretation of the written music into the played; i.e., trying to follow and 'enforce' the text s meaning, in composing and playing, with sound-image imitations, harmonic and melodic symbolism, shapes, etc. that must - or rather are to - be played or sung in the corresponding mood. And most everything else comes second to that (is this a Greek idiom? anyway, if yes, "comes...that" = is less important than that). He says also that "it is a respectable opinion, and its expression (i.e., playing thus) is acceptable"; when using such terms as 'acceptable', he means for a HIP (what are those initials exactly?) performance (anyway performance in a style near that of the time of, in this case, Bach).

< In the recitativo secco of the Weihnachts-Oratorium, Bach always writes long notes for the organ. For better understanding of the text, it is better to cut off these notes into shorter notes. Is this true or not ?? >
According to the 'teachings' of my ... teacher, in a 'very baroque' performance (but perhaps not recording*), no. The job of everyone in a baroque consort/ensemble/..., if they want to achieve a 'historical' approach [and especially in the recitativi], is to complement the meaning of the text. As such, the organ should play long or short, loud or more silent (stops), many or fewer notes, according to the meaning of the text.

* a (live) performance need be a bit more lively, at least in his opinion.

< Do you know some book where I can find the final answer about this, or is it still a complex matter? >
I gueit must be... I regret I know too little of bibliography to help you
..
< thanks in advance for your advice. >
If I deserve any thanks - offered any help, that is - I humbly thanks you.

Charles Francis wrote (December 20, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote: <ad hominem snipped>
Once again, this correspondent demonstrates his unwillingness (or perhaps inability) to debate on substance.

Johan van Veen wrote (December 20, 2003):
Dale Gedcke wrote: < The description below of the form of music in the Baroque period creates the impression that the music had to be performed strictly as written. >
That is certainly not what could be - or should be - concluded from what I wrote.

Composers of the baroque era left a lot to the performer, although some composers did give more freedom than others. It is common knowledge that Bach has written out more than someone like Telemann.

Still, the prolific ornamentation in Baroque music supports the "rhetorical" label for that era. Rhetorical meaning: "Concerned primarily with style or effect; showy or over-elaborate." (from the American Heritage Dictionary). Perhaps the financial support by royalty and wealthy churches lead to composing music that would sound royal, elegant and showy when performed in large cathedrals.

The description you quote is the rather popular and more or less 'negative' one, in particular 'showy' and 'over-elaborate'. But rhetorics in music are rooted in the rhetoric tradition of antiquity. It is nothing but 'the art of eloquence'. It is all about communication.

One of the means of communication is the 'Affekt' (rather than effect), which means 'mood', 'temper'.

Composers of the baroque era asked themselves how they could make the audience feel what they wanted them to feel and how they could communicate a message. This was all a matter of science, not of subjective feelings or speculation. Things like keys, harmony, musical figures could be used to get a message across or create a temper.

In general there is nothing 'showy' or 'over-elaborate' in these tools. Some can be very explicit, others much more subtle.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 20, 2003):
Substance abuse

[To Charles Francis] In my posting (which see):

- I pointed out that the opponent's points and argumentation do nothing to support or advance his own case.

- I offered a correction: that the opponent was factually wrong on at least one point (the assertion that Niedt--after his own death! --somehow copied something from Heinichen's document).

- Further, I pointed out two useful sources where that or any other correspondent can directly read expert opinions on the subject, if they care to do so. I explained exactly where they may be found, and I briefly annotated them with the reasons why I believe they are important to take seriously.

- Finally, I suggested ways that the correspondent could improve his own methods of inquiry, and use his time more productively in his pursuits, instead of continuing to say things that embarrass himself (and his own case) more than embarrassing the scholarly community.

None of that is ad hominem. It is substance on the topic, and it is constructive criticism for the opponent.

Your own remark here, Charles, is simply insubstantial heckling: doing nothing to advance or refute anybody's case on the topic.

It is sad that your pleasure is evidently in the mere heckling of substantial presentations, while offering nothing of substance. It is also noteworthy that you choose to heckle only one correspondent (namely, me): an ad hominem launch of your own, regularly, despite your cry that it is not a valid method of argumentation. If you or anyone else here are simply going to cry "foul" whenever substance is presented which you dislike, or wish were not valid, or are unable to deal with, I will (as has been said before) simply invite you to go do something else that gives you pleasure. "Get a life" is one phrase, among many, that comes to mind.

And I shall go and do likewise, applying my energies elsewhere to do some positive good in the world. I certainly have plenty else to do (family responsibilities, a continuo gig this weekend, holiday celebrations, travel, study, and my paying job) than explain scholarly artistry to people who are absolutely disinclined to learn it, or even to take intellectual pursuits seriously at all.

I do not usually appeal to biblical quotations to make any sort of point, but in this case I shall do so: the words of advice attributed to Jesus in Matthew 7:6 are spot-on.



Continue on Part 12


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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