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Recitatives in Bach’s Vocal Works

Part 12

 

 

Continue from Part 11

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 20, 2003):
Lengthened accompaniment

Brad Lehman pointed out: >> 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.<<
Thanks, Brad, for the correction, which is about the only error you were able to find. Not bad for something that I put together in about 2 to 3 hours! It seems, however, that I hit a raw nerve this time since the level of your vituperations has been raised a few notches and all the major points that I made have been suppressed far below your scanning horizon which is set at not conceding even very obvious points that are causing your Schering/Mendel/Leonhardt/Harnoncourt/Dreyfus/Williams edifice to collapse. Well, better get ready for the ‘coup de grâce:’

Brad requested: >>Please, could we stop talking about it unless someone comes up with a NEW 18th-century source?<<
It is truly amazing that Dreyfus in his book, “Bach’s Continuo Group” Harvard University Press, 1987, does not cite Johann Gottfried Walther for his opinion on the matter of ‘secco’ recitatives in sacred music, despite the fact that he has included elsewhere in his discussions at least 9 or 10 references to Walther’s ‘Musicalisches Lexicon….”which was published in Leipzig in 1732. This may have been more than just an oversight on Dreyfus’ part because what Walther has to say does not confirm the unsupportable dictum which was clearly stated by Nikolaus Harnoncourt: In the secco recitatives, the basso continuo accompaniment was always played short, i.e., the long notes that Bach wrote in the score were always radically abbreviated to short quarter notes.

As background, the reader should be reminded that there was a fairly close association between Bach and Walther over a span of more than 20 years. They were colleagues in Weimar from 1708 to 1717 as Russell Stinson’s article on Walther in the “Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach [Boyd, Oxford University Press, 1999] points out.

Stinson also stated:
“…Bach and Walther appear to have been on friendly terms well after Bach left Weimar. In 1735, for example, Bach negotiated on Walther’s behalf with a Leipzig publisher; he served as a sales agent in Leipzig for Walther’s ‘Musicalisches Lexikon (1732), and may even have assisted in its completion.”

All of this makes anything that Walther might have to say about the subject being debated here extremely important. One major problem, however, is that the statements in a lexicon are, by necessity, much shorter and more condensed than that which can be found in a book devoted solely to all aspects of playing figured bass. Nevertheless, what we can find there about the performance of recitatives is remarkable and highly enlightening. Here are the major points as I see them:

About a recitative, generally,

1) it includes as much declamation as singing with the expression of the words being the foremost objective

2) although notated as if to appear that it might be performed according to a strict time/beat or rhythm, the fact is that there must be rhythmic freedom/flexibility (to be able to sing fast or slow as appropriate to the text or required by it.) [the bc player will need to adjust the playing of the notes/chords accordingly while listening to what the singer is doing – this implies variations departing from the strict time that the score seems to indicate, playing sometimes longer than the notated value, sometimes shorter.]

3) the variations or noticeable changes moving away from the strict time indications [notes being played literally as written following a strict beat] are of two types:

the singer or player following the singer closely may either

a) sing/play the notes shorter than written

or

b) sing/play the notes longer than written. [This is an eye-opener. Where have you ever heard any HIP bc player do this? I can not remember a single instance in the entire Harnoncourt/Leonhardt Bach Cantata Series where this has happened.

Here is the exact dictionary entry:
Recitativo, oder abgekürzt, Rec°. Rec. und R°. (ital.) Recitatif (gall.) ist eine Sing-Art, welche eben so viel von der Declamation als von dem Gesange hat, gleich ob declamirte man singend, oder sänge declamirend: da man denn folglich mehr befließen ist die Affectus zu exprimiren, als nach dem vorgeschriebenen Tacte zu singen. Diesem ungeachtet, schreibet man dennoch diese Gesang-Art im richtigen Tacte hin; gleichwie man aber Freyheit hat, die Noten der Geltung nach zu verändern, und selbige länger und kürtzer zu machen; also ist nöthig, daß die recitirende Stimme über den G. B. geschrieben werde, daß der Accompagnateur dem Recitanten nachgeben könne.“

Here is my first attempt at a reasonable translation of this dictionary entry:

[“Recitativo, or abbreviated as Rec°., Rec., and R°. (Italian); Recitatif (French) is a singing style which derives as much from [the art] of declamation as it does from the nature of song. It is as if you were declaiming while singing, or singing while declaiming, because you are more actively engaged, as a result, to express the ‘Affect’ rather than simply to sing according to what has been written down in a given measure [may also mean ‘ to beat out the time of each note as written out/required by the composer.’] In spite of all this, this type/style of singing [obviously this applies to the bc player(s) as well] is nevertheless written down according to the strict beat. Just as you are granted the freedom to change the values of the notes, making them either longer or shorter, so it is also necessary that the recitative voice part is written over a basso continuo, so that the accompanist will be able to yield/comply/(adjust to) with what the singer is doing [i.e., ‘seeing the vocal part directly over the bc accompaniment makes it possible for the accompanist to make all these adjustments’ / or ‘the composer has to place the voice part directly over the figured bass so that the accompanist can make all the necessary adjustments – play longer, slower, or faster, shorter.”] [The latter assumes, of course, that the bc accompanist is not resting most of the time, but actually playing the notes/chords for their full values - + or – depending upon the circumstances provided by the singer]

How can an accompanist, under these circumstances, do all of the latter if the chord and bass note are not even being sounded according to what is on the written page? If ‘short accompaniment’ or ‘short declamation’ were being used for Bach’s performances of the secco recitatives, would ‘all these adjustments obtain ‘only for some occasional adjustments’ when the singer and bc begin or end a phrase?

Although not much new information is given, other than that already mentioned above, Walther (and very likely Bach along with him) make a critical distinction between the sacred/church recitatives and dramatic/operatic recitatives [nothing really new about this since Heinichen and Mattheson have made this distinction in their books]:

The recitatives performed in the church are of a more serious, reserved nature; hence, they will tend to use the freedom of lengthening and shortening very judiciously; whereas, operatic recitatives make full use of the singing/declaiming style described above under “Recitativo.” This insight, I admit, is based, for the most part, upon reading between the lines:

Musica Drammatica, Scenica oder Theatralis (lat.) eine vors Theatrum gehörige Music.”

[“Dramatic, scene-based, or theatrical music is music that belongs in the theater.”]

Musica Ecclesiastica (lat.) Musica da Chiesa (ital.) Musique d’Eglise (gall.) Kirchen-Music, oder, die sich schicket in der Kirche executirt zu werden.“

[“Church music is church music or music which is appropriate for performing in a church.“]

Music Recitativa, Scenica oder Drammatica, eine singende Declamations-Art, welche die Affectus experimiret, und deswegen an keine genaue Haldes Tacts und der Noten gebunden ist. Die beyden letztern Nahmen führet sie darum, weil sie eigentlich vors Theatrum gehöret.“

[“Recitative music, scene-based or dramatic music has a singing style of declamation [or, as stated earlier: a declaiming style of singing] which expresses the Affects, and, for this reason, is not bound by strict beating of time or rendering the length of the notes precisely. The last two types [scene-based or dramatic] of music are given these names because they belong in a theater.”]

Summary

Once again, with a key source from the 18th century, there is a clear indication of the flexibility accorded the voice in secco recitatives when the object is to express the text. By the nature of the purpose and the place for which the recitatives are written, the liberties that the singer may take in ‘singingly declaiming’ or ‘declaimingly singing’ the text are either more obvious and extreme or more reserved and less flamboyant: the solemn nature of most sacred texts demands a more serious treatment by the performers [less exaggerations which depart from the notation of the mvt.] while the operatic libretti call for much greater freedom in the delivery of the emotions issuing from the text [greater extremes and deviations from the notation given by the composer.]

Not only are notes sometimes shortened, they may also be played/sung for a longer value than notated. Such a lengthening of note values, when referring to the accompanist rather than the recitative singer, is a direct contradiction of the Harnoncourt doctrine which demands that the bc accompanist(s) always shorten the notes considerably.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (December 20, 2003):
[To Dale Gedcke] The problem with your assessment is that you are basically discussing an instrument which is not of the Continuo group, whereas the discussion on this subject so far has dealt with Continuo instruments.

It is true that the Soli and the Orchesterinstrumenten were expected to improvise somewhat their own embellishments. However, this did not apply to the Continuo (or at least, not necessarily). The function of these instruments was to provide a stable grounding for the music, to provide a fundamental base for the instruments and/or vocal ensembles to work from.

The case would, of course, be different if, say, we were dealing with a Klavierkonzert or an Violoncellokonzert. Then the instrumentalist would improvise his/her own embellishments.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 20, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] "Coup de grace"? An over-dramatization. Playing notes occasionally longer than notated is basic harpsichord and organ technique, no "eye-opener" to me! Perhaps it is one to you, the way you exclaim about it. Check the archives of BachRecordings and BachCantatas; I have addressed that possibility before. It is BASIC technique of playing these instruments to have those options, that flexibility to play longer or shorter (as musical context arises) than the notation shows.

Incidentally, the quote:
>>Please, could we stop talking about it unless someone comes up with a NEW 18th-century source?<<
was by Douglas Amrine, not by me. It would seem that someone interested in checking his sources very carefully would have got that. Ah well.

Brad Lehman
(still in possession of all of my head and neck, despite the attempted stroke of the blade)

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 20, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < Thanks, Brad, for the correction, which is about the only error you were able to find. Not bad for something that I put together in about 2 to 3 hours! >
Incidentally, your assumption of "about the only error I was able to find" is a completely unwarranted conclusion. It is not valid reasoning to argue anything, one way or another, by what a person did not say. This is elementary three-valued logic: "true" and "false" and "null" are different things. There could be plenty of reasons why I did not say more than I did, none of which necessarily concern either you or the veracity of your statements. This has been pointed out to you before.

So, please learn how to draw reasonable conclusions and leave the unreasonable ones (and the binary thinking) where they belong. Thank you.

Charles Francis wrote (December 20, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman, regarding Substance abuse] And how does any of that prove the doctrine of shortened notes?

Charles Francis wrote (December 20, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman, regarding Lengthened accompaniment] I see you are unwilling (or perhaps unable) to address the question raised by Mr. Braatz:

"How can an accompanist, under these circumstances, do all of the latter if the chord and bass note are not even being sounded according to what is on the written page? If 'short accompaniment' or 'short declamation' were being used for Bach's performances of the secco recitatives, would 'all these adjustments obtain 'only for some occasional adjustments' when the singer and bc begin or end a phrase?"

No surprise there really.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 20, 2003):
Brad Lehman stated: >>Playing notes occasionally longer than notated is basic harpsichord and organ technique, no "eye-opener" to me!<<
Instead of viewing this matter entirely from an egocentric perspective which blinds you from even beginning to understand what Walther (and perhaps Bach as well) are really saying here, why not ‘pull yourself together’ so that you can obtain a better, more well-balanced understanding of Walther’s dictionary entry on ‘recitativo?’

Let me run this by you once again so that you might ‘get a better handle’ on the significance of Walther’s definition:

If Walther, constrained for space as he considers what is truly worthy of being included in his lexicon, includes in his definition what is most important to know about recitatives and the recitative style of playing and singing in a succinct description of minor, ‘occasional’ variations from the notated score, ‘slight’ variations that those consulting this lexicon should know about, why would he not have mentioned the extreme 'slashing and cutting' of note-values as proposed by the now untenable theory regarding ‘shortened declamation’ or ‘the shortened accompaniment of secco recitatives’?

The answer is quite obvious: the Schering/Mendel/Leonhardt/Harnoncourt, Dreyfus, Williams, etc. theory of ‘shortened accompaniment’ simply did not exist at the time and place when & where Bach composed and performed most of his own sacred music. Certainly such a horrendous deviation from the score as prescribed by the now nearly defunct theory that had been initially proposed by Arnold Schering in 1936 would have elicited a short statement and explanation from Walther (or Bach who may have proofread such sections dealing with recitatives) because such a theory radically alters the score as representing the intentions of the composer (Bach, in this instance.) I have now read this lexicon from cover to cover and have not found any evidence of the existence of such a performance practice. This should cause anyone with a clear mind to wonder about such a lacuna.

We are speaking of general principles here, according to which the music of Bach’s time and place were performed. This does not exclude the possibility of unusual circumstances with which musicians of the day were confronted: ciphers, out-of-tune (old temperament) chords on the organ, overly loud bass instruments in the continuo, etc. details for which there would not be room for discussion in a musical lexicon of this type.

Everything here revolves about the misunderstanding, mistranslation, misinterpretation, and misuse of musicological sources, all of which have been documented here and on Aryeh's site and will need to be considered by a new generation of musicians and musicologists, unless, of course, they wish to follow blindly in the footsteps of the proponents of an untenable theory. What is really sad here is that the system of checks and balances broke down when the musicians performing these works were unable to 'stand back' and listen with their hearts and minds in order to determine what is really musical or not. Instead they allowed themselves to be uin simply attempting to perform these secco recitatives in an unaccustomed manner (a non-Bach manner as it appears now), perhaps simply wanting to show that they were performing the music 'more authentically' than anyone else. Just imagine how much improvement the listener might have experienced in the Teldec Harnoncourt&Leonhardt Bach Cantata Series, if the secco recitatives had been performed properly. Kurt Equiluz' recitative performances might have been even better than what they are now, better because they would have more closely represented Bach's intentions for the performance of his music. As it is now, the listener who hears these cantata recordings will begin to realize what is unfortunately missing in this major recording enterprise (and other cantata recordings which have succumbed to emulating them in the application of this theory.) The fault lies equally with the musicians as well as the musicologists for perpetrating such an affront to the musical ear.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 20, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] The following point has been proven by Mr Braatz:

- Recitative is a genre in which the beat is flexible (axiomatic, from Walther)

- Accompanists should change the harmony wherever it says so in the music: i.e. when the singer gets to that point of the piece (whether the beat is flexible or steady is irrelevant to this axiom) (axiomatic, from basic musicianship)

- Accompanists should hold the notes as long as it says in the music (axiomatic FROM THOMAS BRAATZ, his foregone conclusion)

Conclusion from these three axioms: if the singer hurries or ritards the tempo, and the accompanists follow him accurately, some of the accompaniment notes will end up being shorter or longer than they would have been if measured in an environment of steady tempo.

So what? It is no "coup de grace," let alone even a minor scratch, to anyone who has not stuck the Braatz axiom in there as part of the argument. It does nothing one way or another on that account; it is just irrelevant argumentation, and a conclusion that (while interesting) says nothing to advance his point, his axiom itself about any recommended note-lengths by the accompanists. There is no way it could do so, as that would be circular reasoning (using an axiom to "prove" itself).

Brad Lehman
pointing out basic logic

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 20, 2003):
That is to say: good musicians use their ears and eyes and experience to change the chords at the correct places (lining up with whatever the singer is doing), whether holding down notes in the interim or not. There might be silence in there before the chord change, or there might not be; but either way the change happens where it is specified.

And there is no way to come up with ANYTHING prescriptive (whether inserting silences or forbidding them) from the measurement of resultant note-lengths in absolute time, because we're not in an environment of strict beat but rather a flexible one! The amount of silence, if any, is irrelevant because the absolute measurement of the results is meaningless.

That's why all this is in no way a "coup de grace" to anyone, but merely an embarrassment to the writer (Braatz) who is trying to use it (mistakenly) to prove something meaningful.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 21, 2003):
Brad Lehman retorted: >>That's why all this is in no way a "coup de grace" to anyone, but merely an embarrassment to the writer (Braatz) who is trying to use it (mistakenly) to prove something meaningful.<<
Tout au contraire, I feel vindicated by your apparent inability disprove by supplying other credible evidence the important, substantial points that I have made. My attempt to look into the Niedt reference was primarily to reveal the unreliability of this source which upon careful examination fails partly due to the obscure and contradictory background of Niedt as a musician/composer, but also partly due to the translation difficulties caused by Niedt’s inability to revise, review, edit, and complete the book from which the reference for proof of the Schering/Mendel/Leonhardt/Harnoncourt/Dreyfus/Williams theory of ‘short declamation’ is cited. The hapless task of making sense of Niedt’s initial draft for the “Musicalische Handleitung” Pt. 3 was left to Mattheson who tried to do as much as he could with it, however, the results are, nevertheless, very uneven, as I have demonstrated.

A much more significant reference is that of Heinichen’s, which, if properly translated and understood gives a rather clear description of what Bach may have wanted. Heinichen’s qualifications for coming under serious consideration derive from the significant amount of time which Heinichen lived and worked (composed and performed music) in the same area Leipzig/Dresden. From about 1690 to 1706, Heinichen attended the Thomasschule and University of Leipzig . He studied music under Kuhnau and became one of his principal copyists. In 1709 Heinichen was back in Leipzig composing operas for the opera house there and he became the director of the collegium musicum which met at Lehmann’s coffee house. From 1710-1716 Heinichen was in Italy absorbing all he could of the Italian musical culture. From 1717 until 1729 the time of his death, Heinichen he held a position as a Kapellmeister to the Dresden Court. Despite the fact that the greater portion of his activities as composer and director were concerned with opera, he did maintain a clear distinction between church and operatic recitatives in his books on ‘General-Bass’ (Hamburg, 1711; Dresden, 1728) and did compose works in both categories (almost all of which have been lost.) If there is one negative point that applies to Heinichen as far as researching what Bach’s performance practices might have been, it is the fact that he was more generally a ‘galant’-style composer (and probably performer as well) [according to George J. Buelow in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003).] In this regard he shares a common trait with Niedt who detested counterpoint and canons and preferred a simple melodic line and chordal structure over polyphony. But, since ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ when all we have is a single otherwise reliable and detailed source which stands against the ‘shortened declamation’ theory, Heinichen is the only acceptable choice left upon which to fall back when considering the evidence in this issue.

As far as “- Accompanists should hold the notes as long as it says in the music” goes, this is clearly implied by the silence of both Walther (and probably Bach as well) in this matter. Such an extreme divergence from the composer’s score as has become rampant in HI performances would have been duly noted in Walther’s lexicon had such a thing ever existed as a common performance practice in the geographical region and time period of Bach’s major compositional activities in his early Leipzig years. The words that Walther would use to describe what is going on in these HIPs of secco recitatives would be ‘wildly bizarre or barbaric.’

Neil Halliday wrote (December 21, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz, regarding Not Niedt again!!!]
Niedt wrote (in 1708 or thereabouts!)

<„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.>
Tom, what is your understanding of the words after "Ferner"?

Literally (extremely!), "Further, that they with the Kadentzen(?) the notes not so long hold out / as they written stand / but similar to the following striding ("striding" of the recitative?).

While noting the unfortunate ambiguity of the correct meaning of the word "einhalten" in the preceding section, it would seem Niedt does, mention shortening the notes from their written notation in this sentence. (Some questions immediately come to mind: Is he differentiating the "Kadentzen" from trest of the recitative? Is he refering to the organist as well as the string basses? Is he making these comments in a context of church or secular music?)

But even so, I agree that the style we most commonly hear at present is an extreme representation of the words "the notes not so long hold out / as they written stand" ; the completely unappealing and raucous stabs on string basses, in conjunction with very short chords on an organ, is surely not the practice that even Niedt had in mind. (And we have Heinichen's clear statement about holding out organ chords for their full length.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 21, 2003):
Neil Halliday asked: >>what is your understanding of the words after "Ferner"?

Literally (extremely!), "Further, that they with the Kadentzen(?) the notes not so long hold out / as they written stand / but similar to the following striding ("striding" of the recitative?).<<
Here is the sentence which is not discussed or mentioned in Dreyfus but does appear in the facsimile which he shared on p. 79:

Ferner, daß sie bey denen Kadentzen die Noten nicht so lange aushalten/als sie geschrieben stehen/sondern gleich zur folgenden schreiten.“

My interpretation:

“Furthermore/moreover [in addition to point already made that the chords should be held until the next chord appears in the score] they [another unclear pronoun – does it refer to the organist(s), the string bass player(s), or all of them together?] should not, in the case of (the) cadences [wherever they occur] hold out the notes for their full length, but rather move right on to the next [cadences].”

>>Is he differentiating the "Kadentzen" from the rest of the recitative?<<
I would think so because cadences have always received a special treatment (not played precisely as written). You will find that most recordings of the non-HIP variety do this as well.

>>Is he refering to the organist as well as the string basses?<<
Reading between the lines and forcing a specific reference for the pronouns in question, I would think that he is trying to refer to both here. They must play the cadence together, even if it is not precisely as written in the score.

>>Is he making these comments in a context of church or secular music?)<<
Judging from the fact that a reference is made later on in the facsimile on p. 79 to keyboard (probably harpsichord) and organ, I would have to assume that this passage covers church recitatives as well.

Christian Panse wrote (December 22, 2003):
Being a native German speaker who is used to read older (even pre-Bach) texts, I can perhaps help here.

Again the Niedt Paragraph in question:
< 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. >

Here is my translation to English (without having read any other before):
# From the organ and bass players I demand that NB. when a recitative is found, and two or three whole measures are set as to be held, that they don't do more than to give with each newly occurring note a stroke or an impulse and the to pause until a new note follows. Furthermore, that they at cadences don't hold the notes as long as they are written, but immediately go on to the next one. #

< Tom, what is your understanding of the words after "Ferner"?

Literally (extremely!), "Further, that they with the Kadentzen(?) the notes not so long hold out / as they written stand / but similar to the following striding ("striding" of the recitative?). >

See above. "Schreiten" here means "to go on".

< While noting the unfortunate ambiguity of the correct meaning of the word "einhalten" in the preceding section, >
Oh, it is not very ambigous. Niedt uses in that paragraph "halten" (to hold) as well as "einhalten", which IMHO cannot be translated other than "to stop, to pause". It's the same "einhalten" as in SMP Mvt. 60, where it means "to stop" as well. The only derivate of "halten" which is ambigous in meaning is "halten" itself, because it can mean either "to hold (on)" or "to stop" (as e.g. in SMP Mvt. 33), and several things more, as "to hold" in English (e.g. to hold in one's arms etc.).

In relation to musical or other events that can be influenced by a steering human being, "einhalten" is always "to stop" as well as "innehalten". The other sense would be achieved with other prefixes, e.g. "behalten", "beibehalten", "da(r)zuhalten".

< it would seem Niedt does, mention shortening the notes from their written notation in this sentence. (Some questions immediately come to mind: Is he differentiating the "Kadentzen" from the rest of the recitative? >
The cadences are the part where the B.c. sets the concluding two chords under a paragraph (as in the PDQ Bach joke "And she answered him not and sayeth: <pling, pling>".

< Is he refering to the organist as well as the string basses? >
Yes, to both. He addresses both in line 1 and doesn't differentiate afterwards. He handles the whole B.c. as a unit.

< Is he making these comments in a context of church or secular music?) >
In the context of recitative :-)

< [...] the completely unappealing and raucous stabs on string basses, in conjunction with very short chords on an organ, is surely not the practice that even Niedt had in mind. >
You try to conclude here from your taste that developed by performances and recordings to earlier times, I think. Even to read the mind of someone who lived 300 Years ago.

< (And we have Heinichen's clear statement about holding out organ chords for their full length.) >
It may well be that there were different opinions even then... Or different contexts, or local customs, or...

Klaus Langrock wrote (December 22, 2003):
As far as I see, there are some different interpretations of this problem. The first one depends on the choice of instrument you are using: the harpsichpord's sound will expire quickly after its strings have been plucked. On the other hand, the lasting sound of the organ might be too strong (depending on the registration) for the singer's voice. (Compare C. P . E. Bach's "Versuch üer die wahre Art...). The 2nd interpretation depends on the intentions of the theoritician you quote: Mattheson, Heinichen, even Niedt and others give deviating "rules". This means, because not all of them are right, there seems to be no single, golden solution to this problem. Please bear in mind that Bach isn't the only composer in this time... Regarding the statement by Niedt: in the continuo parts of his time, the singer's notes are usually written down as far as recitatives are concerned. Thus the expression "bis wiederum eine neue Note erfolge" ("until a new note follows") admits two interpretations: it might refer to either the next bass note, or the singer's next note which requires a new chord, even if there is no signature.

My personal beliefe is that there is still too much material to be researched to find a final answer to this question. There are lots of indications that Bach himself was more flexible than we are today, as you all know...

There is a demand for a discussion of this problem, but also for experiment on the side of the musicians. Try and error?

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 22, 2003):
Christian Panse provided his interpretation of Niedt’s statement as follows:

The original:
>>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.<<

Christian Panse’s translation:
>>From the organ and bass players I demand that NB. when a recitative found, and two or three whole measures are set as to be held, that they don't do more than to give with each newly occurring note a stroke or an impulse and the to pause until a new note follows. Furthermore, that they at cadences don't hold the notes as long as they are written, but immediately go on to the next one.<<

The key words upon which everything here revolves are the two separable verbs ‘zugeben’ [to allow, to add to, {in this instance – to strike or play ‘a new note’ = a new chord?}] and the problematical verb ‘einhalten’ [‘continuing to hold on(to)’ or its opposite: ‘to stop’ or ‘discontinue’]

Christian stated: >> In relation to musical or other events that can be influenced by a steering human being, "einhalten" is always "to stop" as well as "innehalten".<<
The DWB, on p. 195 of Vol. 3, gives an excellent example of ‘einhalten’ as ‘innehalten’ [‘innehalten’ = Goethe’s usage: ‘to continue living within a place’] :

man sagt auch sein Wasser einhalten” [‘continence’ [OED] = continuity as well as ‚self-restraining’] one continues holding (on/in) the stream of water without letting go - this may happen even before the ‘steering human being’ has stopped in midstream the flow of water; hence ‘to continue on with the activity of holding’ until….

>>It's the same "einhalten" as in SMP Mvt. 60, where it means "to stop" as well.<<
Yes, same separable verb, but the opposite meaning. This is all very possible, but it (quoting a Bach text) does not yield an iota of information about what Niedt’s intentions really were. Due to Niedt’s confused state of mind possibly due to illness (he may have been writing this on his deathbed) or with his problems in writing clearly, or with Mattheson’s failed attempt to reconstruct accurately and understandably from Niedt’s notes a simple statement whether a note/chord is to be held or not and who specifically is being addressed here, this small sample of ‘evidence’ fails to meet the necessary criteria upon which to base the theory of ‘shortened accompaniment.’ It should never have passed the scrutiny of the peer group which is supposed to check out such things.

Klaus Klangrock, on this same subject, stated: >> Regarding the statement by Niedt: in the continuo parts of his time, the singer's notes are usually written down as far as recitatives are concerned. Thus the expression "bis wiederum eine neue Note erfolge" ("until a new note follows") admits two nterpretations: it might refer to either the next bass note, or the singer's next note which requires a new chord, even if there is no signature.<<
Yes, thanks for pointing out yet another difficulty in attempting to interpret Niedt’s passage with any sense of certainty..

>>Mattheson, Heinichen, even Niedt and others give deviating "rules".<<
I can see no major deviations between these sources. They seem to agree generally with each one giving a slightly different version with different examples. Mattheson (except in his activity in publishing Niedt posthumously) did not specifically address the problem of ‘shortened accompaniment/declamation.’

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 22, 2003):
Dreyfus, Williams, and Mendel: read them for yourself

[To Neil Halliday] Instead of guessing at what Laurence Dreyfus has written about Niedt and Heinichen, or guessing what Niedt and Heinichen themselves wrote, or taking the word of people in this discussion, read it for yourself (yourselves). I have scanned those pages and footnotes, and made them available at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/dreyfus-mendel-williams.pdf

This portion includes the facsimile of the Niedt example. Enjoy!

Perhaps this will clear up some of the confusion that has been rampant on this list due to speculative commentary from people who have not read it, and (even worse) the speculative and anti-scholarly commentary from some who have read it!

I have also scanned and enclosed the opening pages of several of the following resources (namely, the Mendel and Williams articles):

- Peter Williams, "Basso Continuo on the Organ", Music and Letters #1 [1969], pp136-54 and 230-45

- Peter Williams and David Ledbetter, "Continuo", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians [2001]

- Laurence Dreyfus, Bach's Continuo Group: Players and Practices in his Vocal Works [1987], Harvard University Press

- Arthur Mendel, "On the Keyboard Accompaniments to Bach's Leipzig Church Music", Musical Quarterly xxxvi [1950], pp339-62

I have not reproduced the materials here in full because:

- The Internet is not a public library, or even a reasonable substitute for one.

- The materials are copyrighted.

- The materials must be read in their entirety (as has been done by expert performers and scholars, including myself) to see the scope and context of the points they prove. Anyone who is serious about this topic must do the reading to understand what has been said; not merely guessing at them from the hearsay reports of someone who has reported bits and pieces selectively, in the process of trying to shoot them down.

- Anyone interested in understanding this topic must learn how to go look things up, to use scholarly methods and tools of research. There is no substitute for reading the expert proofs oneself. And there is no substitute for knowing the valid methods of research and argumentation by which those proofs have been checked and commented upon by other experts.

This expert material stands on its merits, and on the test of time, and on the valid methods of research that have informed these writings. It will not be twittered out of existence by the mis-reporting, sarcastic remarks, and empty speculations of dilettantes who refuse to do the reading.

And this ends my input on this topic (as should have been done long ago). I refuse to engage in dialogue with dilettantes who refuse to read the expert proofs, and who bring to the table neither musicological training nor any practical experience of continuo improvisation.

Hans Hinrich wrote (December 24, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thank You for Your intersting comments in the BCML, which I read regulary. I am a native German-speaking cellist, who plays Bach quite often. Unfortunately my English is rather poor. There are really two different meanings of the word "einhalten" as You pointed out. Spontaneously I understood the Niedt-text in the same way asYou did. I want to add another thought: In my opinion Niedt wanted the string players (Bass, Gambe,cello) not to change the bow on a long note, which always causes an accent. Even if You would interpret "einhalten" as "to stop" (which whould not be necessary) it does not mean "stop playing" but rather "don`t change the bow on long notes". In the next part Niedt speakes about cadenzas. As we know there are often fermatas or long notes in cadenzas. I think Niedt wants here also not to give a new accent with changing the bow but rather play the note shorter than it is written down (but only for technical reasons, especially with the barocque bow). According to Chr. Wolff Bach never employed any string player who was not able to hold a double-fingering not for less than 10 seconds. Why did he want this ability from his musicians if not for accompaning in recitativs?

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 24, 2003):
Hans-Hinrich stated: >>According to Chr. Wolff Bach never employed any string player who was not able to hold a double-fingering not for less than 10 seconds.<<
I assume you mean double-stopping [Doppelgriff] here. I have never yet come upon this observation on Bach’s string-player requirements. Are you able to document this either with a work or article by Chr. Wolff, or, better yet, in the Bach Dokumente or a similar work?

Your own observation on Niedt’s possible suggestion for playing recitatives without changing the bowing is interesting. Circa 1700 many low string players were gradually changing over from viola da gamba to violoncello. The question remains whether the chords were not only played on the organ or harpsichord, but that they were simultaneously also being played in arpfashion by the viol or the cello since holding out the same chord for 8 or 12 or more beats becomes very difficult, even if held as a double-stop. Possibly this type of bowed-bass-instrument-playing became too heavy or distracting so that the length of the duplicating organ chords would have to be reduced or else only the single bass notes were played by these bass instruments. In any case, arpeggiated chords on the organ were frowned upon, possibly this was, however, not the case with viols and cellos. This entire hypothesis was established by Arnold Schering in 1936 and continued ‘to rear its ugly head’ in Harnoncourt’s commentaries on the secco recitative, until Laurence Dreyfus summarized this situation/problem in his Bach’s Continuo Group (Harvard University Press, 1987, p. 234 note 92.)

Coming back to Niedt: the ambiguity of his statements is such that no reputable musicologist/musician should place any faith whatsoever in what he is attempting say about the performance practices of the sacred secco recitative at the beginning of the 18th century in Northern Germany. Heinichen, when properly translated, remains the single, most important source with sufficient detail to resolve this issue once and for all.



Continue on Part 13


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| Part 5

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Last update: ýJanuary 29, 2005 ý15:34:05