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Recitatives in Bach’s Vocal Works
Discussions - Part 14

Continue from Part 13

Belting out recitative accompaniment

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 28, 2005):
< (I'm swimming against it; I want to get the cantatas back on the concert programs of modern symphony orchestras, with at least 24 voice choirs, and grand pianos to belt out some crunchy diminished 7th chords etc, in the recitatives.) >
Diminished 7th chords sound a lot MORE crunchy and exciting when played on a good harpsichord, than on piano. A good resonant harpsichord with classic design (wooden frame), not a tinkly iron-framed heavy but paltry model from an assembly-line factory. Piano tone doesn't have the strong upper overtones that good harpsichords and organs do. Italian harpsichords are especially good at providing that dramatic crunch, due to their tonal design.

I like that general idea of "belt out", though. Strong drama there in the recitatives, not apologetic little stuff that is merely polite or twiddly. Needs enough organ tone in there, with some of the higher-pitched stops, to give enough presence to it. Harpsichord too, optionally where available. And bass-line players of strings and winds with the chutzpah to dig into it, making some bold strokes and not merely following along like a faithful spaniel. A strong bass line as a line of accented strokes, different weights and lengths, does some amazing things for the drama of the music. Helps the singer get across the meaning of the words, like exciting declamation punctuated by a team that is right there with every moment of it. The whole range of emotions and dynamics should be available there, for deployment at any given moment according to the thrust of the words.

The recitative genre, fundamentally from the realm of opera and "Seconda prattica" expressionism 100 years before Bach, is not a polite little devotional bit of quiet musing. It is fiery drama. It is in-your-face flips of Affekt, all the way from tender cajoling to sword-strokes. Notation on the page is mere shorthand for "Do something powerfully dramatic here using this bass line motion and these harmonies, in this order." All the rest of it is up to good musicians doing their jobs. The question of instrumentation is secondary here. Engage musicians who understand the genre and play it to the hilt.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 29, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<"I like that general idea of "belt out", though. Strong drama there in the recitatives, not apologetic little stuff that is merely polite or twiddly".>
Like this one from Koopman, with organ in the continuo?
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Mus/BWV8-Mus.htm

The 'C-9' example. I hope you can hear this without broadband. If not, rest assured your description: "apologetic little stuff that is merely polite or twiddly", fits this to a tee; and let's face it, this is currently the norm for recitative performance in Bach's church cantatas.

On the question of drama, do not forget that a piano can play loud and soft chords; a piano can, for example, increase the volume/force of a succession of chords from soft to loud, or vice-versa, in a very dramatic fashion. This a harpsichord cannot do, and it's why pianos were invented. (Perhaps we can agree to differ on the question of the effectiveness of the two instruments' timbres, for conveying the pitch-information of complex/dramatic chords; and in any case I also enjoy the distinctive bright overtones characteristic of the harpsichord).

With organ in recitatives, a quiet registration and/or a shortened-note method is required, because long-held forte chords on the organ are overpowering except in a solo piece. [In contrast, piano (and harpsichord) chords begin to 'die-away' immediately, no matter how loudly they are struck]. This is why organ continuo recitatives often (not always) fail in the drama stakes, as in the above Koopman example.

Seems to me, the piano was designed for dramatic recitative accompaniment.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 29, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Seems to me, the piano was designed for dramatic recitative accompaniment. >
I'm not convinced that this is the case. The piano was the instrument of choice for power and expressiveness in the Romantic period and yet it never made an appearance in opera. Mozart acccompanied his operas from the piano and yet there is nothing in the scores which indicates that he used the keyboard for anything more than harmonic support. Mozart certainly knew the instrument's expressive power but seems indifferent to the possibilities of obligato accompaniment. When we look ahead to the Lieder of Schubert and Schumann, secco recitative really disappears as a dramatic device -- the conclusion of "Erlkönig" is the only example I can think of. Accompanied recitative stays around a lot longer -- Wagner's 'Das Rheingold' has many passages which is really recitative.

I really prefer discretion in recitative accompaniment. I don't want to hear the Evanagelist in the Passions constantly competing with an over-fussy and elaborate realizations. I remember one performance with harpsichord which was full of melodramatic arpeggios, ten-note block chords and all manner of ornaments. The drama should be in the vocal line not the keyboard.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 29, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
<"I really prefer discretion in recitative accompaniment">
This is the opposing view; and while we don't really know what Bach had in mind, it means all those wonderful instrumental harmonies/modulations indicated in the figured-bass, become virtually inaccessable to the listener, in any dramatic sense.

My suggestions are an attempt to make the music live, for those like myself who find that extended unaccompanied recitative quickly becomes tedious, by allowing the fullest experience of the instrumental drama (indicated in the figures), as well as the vocal drama.

Of course, I recognise this is not a problem for others, including yourself.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 29, 2005):
< I really prefer discretion in recitative accompaniment. I don't want to hear the Evanagelist in the Passions constantly competing with an over-fussy and elaborate realizations. I remember one performance with harpsichord which was full of melodramatic arpeggios, ten-note block chords and all manner of ornaments. The drama should be in the vocal line not the keyboard. >
Who said anything about "competing"? IMO, the drama should be in both the vocal line and the accompaniment, where the accompaniment is responding to things the vocalist is doing, and urging him/her on in brilliant collaboration.

A top-notch accompaniment still can't save a performance, if it's saddled with a singer who refuses to spike the ball that the accompaniment has placed in perfect position six inches above the net. (Pardon the volleyball metaphor.) Or an alley-oop in basketball. Or a brilliant combination play in soccer. Whatever. It's still the singer's job to pound the ball home.

And, back to the volleyball one: how can the singer spike the ball at all if the too-discreet accompaniment never gives it a set anywhere near the net?

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 29, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>When we look ahead to the Lieder of Schubert and Schumann, secco recitative really disappears as a dramatic device -- the conclusion of "Erlkönig" is the only example I can think of.<<
Try looking at some longer ballads such as Schubert's setting of Schiller's "Der Taucher" [D77] and his settings of Ossian's Gesänge [D375 and D534.]

 

help needed on interpretation of recits

Indra Hughes wrote (November 11, 2005):
Forgive me if this has been covered here already - I am new to these boards.

Here in New Zealand we are having the Bach Cantatas played on the radio on the day for which they were written (or as close as possible thereto). Aren't we lucky!

By default, however, our station (Concert FM) chooses the Rilling/Stuttgart recordings so week after week we are getting these versions rather than any of the alternatives. I suppose the station must own a set of the Rilling comprecordings. There are many things that disappoint me about Rilling's recordings but that is not why I am writing.

I notice in these performances that in the recits Rilling has the continuo sustain their notes continuously, all the way through. I know that more often than not the recits are notated like that, with lots of tied semibreves in the bass part and so on.

But pretty much every other performer seems to do the recits 'secco' even though the bass lines are notated with long notes.

I have always preferred this 'secco' reading of recits, but that may be only because it is what I have always been used to.

I would like to know whether there is evidence of Bach's intentions and/or practice, one way or the other. Why has Rilling chosen to sustain the chords and bass lines when other performers have not? (Incidentally, Rilling's singers tend to deliver their recits in something very close to strict time as notated, with little or no freedom, and that may be as a result of Rilling taking the notated rhythms of the recits pretty strictly. Is he assuming that, because the cantatas were 'churned out' in short order week after week, the singers would have been virtually sight reading and would have stuck pretty closely to the notated rhythms, not having time to work on the sophisticated 'speech rhythm' delivery we hear from conductors like Herreweghe etc? I know from personal experience just how long it takes to achieve that instinctive synchronicity between the soloist, cellist and organist/harpsichordist.)

I always assumed that Bach wrote a load of semibreves in his recits because they are the fastest notes to write down and he probably had not the time or inclination when writing the cantatas to fill up bars with heaps of rests. I have always assumed when playing the organ in these recits and working with singers that the recits were a case where Bach did not necessarily mean exactly what he wrote....

If anyone can enlighten me, or point me in the right direction, I would really appreciate it.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 12, 2005):
Indra Hughes wrote:
>>Forgive me if this has been covered here already - I am new to these boards.<<
We forgive you if you read carefully everything found at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/IndexTopics.htm

Then look under

Movements

and subcategory

Recitatives (14 parts!)

If you still have questions after reading this, I am certain there will be individuals who would like to reopen this unfinished (never-ending it seems) discussion.

John Pike wrote (November 14, 2005):
[To Indra Hughes] You are opening something of a Pandora's box by raising this question on this list since opinions are highly polarised. i suggest you read "Bach's Continuo Group", by Laurence Dreyfus, Harvard UP, which has an excellent chapter on this matter. It can be difficult to obtain outside the US. I suggest you try a Google search or www.Abebooks.com or an interlibrary loan.

Indra Hughes wrote (November 15, 2005):
THANKS

Thank you to those who have replied to me both on and off the list. I am grateful to have been pointed in the right direction. Of course I should have remembered about Dreyfus' book - I see it all the time at the University library!

I have no wish to re-open Pandora's Box on here so will not express an opinion!

 

to sustain, or not to sustain, that is the question

Nils Lid Hjort wrote (November 28, 2005):
A little while ago Indra Hughes asked about the practice of sustaining or not sustaining long notes in the basso continuo parts of the recitatives. We were then informed that this topic has been discussed at great length earlier on this list, without any clear consensus: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/IndexTopics.htm
then "Movements" then "Recitatives" (in 14 long parts)

I have been skimming through these, with interest, and have just two simple questions, without asking anyone to open Pandora's box again (unless they wish to do so):

1. I've noticed that Suzuki (with the Bach Collegium Japan) at least for some of the cantatas uses the "stop chords early, let the singer be more alone" approach, perhaps particularly when using the organ. Does he do this consistently, through all the Cantata volumes (so far Vols. 1-28)? Has he commented on this specifically, in some of his "notes on performances"?

As someone pointed out in these earlier discussions, it appears to be Harnoncourt in the 1970ies who is the "modern initiator" for the practice of stopping chords early?

2. These earlier BCML discussions about recitatives discuss aspects of Mattheson's "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" (Hamburg, 1739) in detail. What is known regarding how well known Mattheson's book was at that time? Would must German musicians (or, say, conductors) have been exposed to that book, at around say 1750? Or was it seen as a more obscure or "for specialists only" publication?

Nils Lid Hjort
... who would also like Indra Hughes to tell us a little about his ongoing PhD project.

Neil Halliday wrote (November 28, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
"I've noticed that Suzuki (with the Bach Collegium Japan) at least for some of the cantatas uses the "stop chords early, let the singer be more alone" approach, perhaps particularly when using the organ. Does he do this consistently," >
Nils, have you entered this site into your 'favourites' folder? (kindly given by Roar Myrheim recently): http://www.bis.se/index.php?op=people&pID=2396

You can listen to samples of all Suzuki's cantata movements (You may have to register with Naxos, but it's free).

In short (!), Suzuki has adopted the `HIP' shortened chord method for secco recitatives (except sometimes with the first chord), which results in a marked contrast in form with all the other movements of a given cantata, and quickly becomes tedious, as a form of `non-music', to my ears. (Notice the apparent lack of treble clef material
in the short chords in this week's cantata BWV 194.)

I much prefer good examples of Rilling's method, as in this week's cantata BWV 194, where harpsichordist Martha Schuster develops tasteful, artistic accompaniment on the harpsichord, in conjunction with long-held (as notated) notes on the cello, resulting in a form of accompanied recitative, ie, a continuo recitative, that is much more in keeping with the overall character of the other movements that one finds in a Bach cantata (ie, voice(s) plus instruments). [Undoubtedly a little more phrasing in Rilling's seccos would help, in some other examples of his].

I have also heard pleasing examples from Leusink, using organ, with mostly full length accompanying chords, in BWV 185/4; BWV 136/4; and BWV 69/2 and 4.

[And maybe it's possible that one day an ensemble that is not exclusively devoted to chasing the HIP rabbit might discover what an effective instrument a piano is, in continuo recitatives].

Personally, I much prefer, being a lover of instrumental harmonies as well as vocal music, to hear these movements as continuo recitatives, and like continuo arias, they ought to be accompanied by the continuo, not presented as a strange mixture of recitation and shortened, disjointed instrumental accompaniment.

Unfortunately, the historical record is unclear, but in any case today's possibly more satisfactory organ tunings may allow for better results with long held chords (on organ) than those that might have been possible in the 1720's when mean-tone tunings probably were still rearing their ugly heads on many of the available instruments.

In passing, I regard it as one of those strange things in life, that other people (claim to) prefer the shortened chord method, especially sincmany people do not even appear to have noticed or cared about the matter, before those of us familiar with pre HIP examples raised it.

John Pike wrote (November 28, 2005):
[To Nils Lid Hjort] While I agree with Neil that Rilling and Leusink can provide pleasing accompaniment for secco recitative, I personally do not object to shortened accompaniment (indeed, I enjoy it) and I was persuaded by the evidence for it in "Bach's Continuo Group" by Laurence Dreyfus, Harvard UP.

This is an excellent book, with all sorts of fascinating information in it. It is very well written and easy to read regardless of one's musicological background knowledge. I think this is an area where there is no substitute for reading the book and forming one's own mind up on the issue, since opinions on this list are so polarised anyway.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 28, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
>>Personally, I much prefer, being a lover of instrumental harmonies as well as vocal music, to hear these movements as continuo recitatives, and like continuo arias, they ought to be accompanied by the continuo, not presented as a strange mixture of recitation and shortened, disjointed instrumental accompaniment.
Unfortunately, the historical record is unclear, but in any case today's possibly more satisfactory organ tunings may allow for better results with long held chords (on organ) than those that might have been possible in the 1720's when mean-tone tunings probably were still rearing their ugly heads on many of the available instruments.<<
This is an astute observation with which I can agree along with the mechanical problems [see below] that could arise back then more than now. [a personal aside: when I was about 8 or 9, my first lessons on a church organ which I also used for practice were given on a trakker-action organ with a flat pedal board more like the type Bach would have encountered. It took a lot of stretching to reach the low and high notes without losing balance on the organ bench. It was very noisy compared to the very slick and practically noiseless modern pedal boards that I played on later. I can easily imagine how using the old-style pedal board could be disturbing to a performance with a single voice!]

It appears that the 'can of worms' needs to be opened once again. Without going back to what I have previously written, I have once again examined the crucial texts/sources involved which can shed light on the decision which is the subject of this thread:

Let's examine the Niedt quotation [which has been referred to numerous times before on this list - do a search on "Niedt" and "Recitative"]:

or look at page 79 in Dreyfus' book if you have it before you:

Niedt states:

>>§15.
Von ersteren [reference to organists and members of the bc group] bitte ich mir aus / daß NB. wenn ein 'Recitativ' vorkommt / und zwey bis drey gantzer 'Tacte' halten gesetzt ist / sie nicht mehr thun, als bey jeder neuen 'Not'e / die da vor kommt / einen Anschlag oder Anstoß zugeben / und dann so lange einhalten / bis wiedrum eine neue 'Not'e erfolge. Ferner / daß sie bey denen 'Caden'tzen die 'Not'en nicht so lange aushalten / als sie geschrieben stehen / sondern gleich zur folgenden schreiten.

§16.
Wo übern 'General-Bass' in denen 'Recitativ'en Ziffern gesetzt sind / so 'observire' der 'accompagnir'ende 'Bassist' wohl / ob der Sänger bey denselben und dem 'Accord' feste bleibe / da er dann solche zu 'exprimir'en eben nicht nöthig hat; Wo aber der Sänger aus dem Thon oder 'Accord' fällt / kan 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':

Niedt's Illustration

so müsten die 'Bass-Not'en angestossen werden / so / wie sie hier im 'Bass' schwartz gezeichnet stehen; und solches muß bey allen 'Recitativ'en wohl /wohl 'observi'ret werden / soll es anderst recht klingen / und nicht als ein altes Mühlen=Rad klappen.<<

My translation with commentary included:

§15.

Regarding the former group which I had mentioned earlier, the organists and members of the basso continuo group, I would request that they, (note this well) when they encounter a recitative where there may be passages with notes held out for 2 or 3 measures, should do nothing more than 'touch' (simply sound out/attack) the new note and then hold on to this note until another new/different note follows/appears in sequence. In addition (I would request) that they [this unclear reference can be deduced from examining the example below - Niedt is referring to only certain members of the continuo group who play in the 16' range: violone, organ - pedal board] should not hold out the notes for the full value as indicated in the score, but should rather immediately proceed to the next (note.)

§16.

Wherever the composer has placed (figured bass) numbers in the recitatives, the accompanying 'bass instrument player in the continuo group' should observe carefully whether the singer remains on pitch and sings the (broken) chords/harmonies securely (without losing his sense of tonality and pitch), because then it will simply not be necessary for the bass instrument player in the continuo group to add ('express') any additional chords or play additional notes (in order to help the singer along;) but when a singer does lose his place/pitch/tonality/sense of harmonic structure, then he (mainly the harpsichord or organ player) may add [to their full extent] these additional chords indicated by the figured bass so as to help the singer 'get back on track' again. For example, here in the following recitative you can see:

[Illustration - see Dreyfus, p. 79]

in this manner the bass notes should be sounded/played as indicated by the black notes in the bass (bottom line.) This method must be carefully observed in all recitatives if the music is to sound different [as Niedt would have it: properly] and not resemble the noise created by an old mill wheel. [Elsewhere, on p. 43 in the same book, Niedt similarly complains about the annoying interference created by the pedal board each time a note is played. He explains that if you play using only a single 16' stop [probably a 'Gedackt'], and you play a short note, you will hear more pedal noise than the normally expected note [it takes time for the sound to develop in such large
pipes of this type.] He refers to organists who attempt to play the pedal notes too fast as "'Pedal'-Quäler" ["Pedal torturers."] Why would Niedt want, then, to create a method for playing a shortened organo accompaniment where the shortened notes simply exacerbate the problem he so desires to solve: 'torturing the pedals' and the 'grating mill-wheel effect'?

One thing is quite certain: Niedt and J. S. Bach would have been seriously at odds with each other on this point (fast passages in the pedal part) as well as Niedt's injunction never to allow any fugues to appear in a church cantata. And yet Niedt is called upon in desperation by those who wish to use his comments as definite proof for the theory regarding 'shortened accompaniment in church-style, secco recitatives.'

* 'einhalten' according to the DWB [equivalent to the complete OED in English] can have various (almost contradictory) meanings in German:

There is intransitive usage where the meaning is:cessare currendo, loquendo, canendo (to stop running, speaking, singing)

and a number of other meanings equally important with various transitive objects, accusative and dative:

1. inhibere, cohibere, reprimere (to hold in/back one's breath

2. servare, observare (to hold one's word) to have resolved to do something and not give up/in

3. occupare, possidere, (to hold onto and defend [a fortress, etc.])

4. continere, enthalten, (to hold on [uphold] a law and continue doing so

5. retinere, zurückhalten (I lent him 4,000 golden guilders, but when I asked for them back, he kept holding on to them [and refused to give them up.]

Now the question might be raised: where is the object (accusative or dative) in Niedt's sentence? The answer is that this may well be a not uncommon cof ellipsis where the object is understood from just a little earlier in the same sentence: "und dann so lange [die Note] einhalten / bis wiedrum eine neue 'Not'e erfolge" ("and then to hold the note so long [to continue holding the note] until another [different] note appears in sequence.")

Note: Examine carefully Niedt's illustration and you might come to the conclusion that Niedt is not asking the entire continuo group to play in the manner described. He is not saying: "take the composer's indication with the long-held notes and feel free to put them down an octave and shorten them, or even make up additional notes and play them even though they were not in the original. What Niedt has done here [his explanation of this and his unclear references do leave very much to be desired] is to indicate deviations from the original score for the following reasons:

1. a loud sounding violone at 16' (octave below what is indicated in the score) would be too strong and too loud. It is necessary to make these 'bass' players become sensitive to the volume of sound that they create. They must not overwhelm the singer, particularly since other instruments (the violoncello is holding out the notes as written) provide a sufficient foundation for the singer.

2. an organist who makes use of the pedal board needs to be mindful that the noise generated by old trakker-action organs is so disturbing that curtailing the playing of notes, even short ones, is a priority (Heinichen [see below]is quite concerned that in holding any long note on an organ there might occur a 'cipher' [the note sticks for various mechanical reasons and destroys any performance until the problem
can be solved.]

3. this leaves the harpsichordist to fill in necessary chords to help keep the singer on pitch and in the correct tonality, but the harpsichord can not sustain the long notes without using devices such as continually sweeping arpeggios which are frowned upon in a church-style recitative.

4. as mentioned above, an instrument, most likely the violoncello/viola da gamba as a key member of the continuo group does sustain the notes as written with the organ (on the manual{s}) holding the chords, but sensitively releasing along with the violone the 16' sound which could easily overwhelm the singer.

Conclusion regarding the illustration:

The top line in the bass line (the original notation with long, held notes by the composer) is still being played as written by the violoncello/viola da gamba (as the sustaining sound) while the pedal notes (if they are played at all by the organist) must not be too short, but also must not be sustained for their full value because they would otherwise be too loud for a single voice.

The same applies to the violone. It reads (or knows that it should read) the long, extended notes and octave lower than written with much shorter values as indicated in the lower half of the notes given in the bass clef. The organist will also sustain for full
value the chords associated with the figured bass.

It is Johann David Heinichen in his "Neu erfundene und Gründliche Anweisung zu vollkommener Erlernung des General-Basses," Hamburg, 1711, p. 226, who makes the clearest statement about the manner in which church-style secco recitatives are to be played:

".man schläget die 'Noten' meist nur platt nieder / und die Hände bleiben hierbey ohne weiteres 'Ceremoniel' so lange liegen / biß ein anderer 'Accord' folget / mit welchen es wiederum / wie zuvor /gehalten wird."

["you simply press the 'notes' [the keys which make the notes sound] down flat [all the way through so that all the notes/keys can produce the desired sounds] and, in/while doing so, your hands remain down [with the keys depressed creating the sounds you want] without any further ceremony [no showing off with special embellishments or wide ranging arpeggios] until another/the next chord follows, after which you follow the same procedure as before."]

Nothing could be more absolutely clear than this. Heinichen continues with some extraordinary circumstances when it might be necessary to use a different technique/method of playing, but as a general, primary rule which covers the situations that a keyboard player [in this case, obviously an organist
is meant] might encounter in playing church-style secco recitatives, this is the best historical source to follow. It is, however, the one source which HIP musicologists such as Dreyfus, attempt to explain away by declaring Heinichen's statement as a 'puzzle.' On pp. 76-77 of Dreyfus' book you will find evidence of how much effort is expended by Dreyfus in attempting to come to terms with the clear language used by Heinichen. Dreyfus accuses Heinichen of being 'contradictory' 'getting it backwards' 'catering only to the novice' of 'not knowing that, on an organ, arpeggios do not work as well as on a harpsichord. What an audacious statement on the part of a musicologist who is 'not in the same league' as Heinichen in understanding what performance practices were acceptable or not during Bach's day!

Decide for yourself what kind of scholarship this is that has to go to such extreme lengths to uphold a very shaky theory that certain HIP protagonists had already taken a liking to. Dreyfus' accusation that Heinichen is indecisive can only spring from the bias with which Dreyfus approaches Heinichen's clear statement.

Nils Lid Hjort wrote (November 29, 2005):
Thanks to Thomas Braatz for opening the can of worms again and for lucid discussion of relevant historical sources. I do not have Dreyfus' book and can't judge his (Dreyfus') opinions regarding Nietz and Heinichen accurately, but Braatz' analysis of what Johann Heinichen actually meant in his "Neu erfundene und Gründliche Anweisung zu vollkommener Erlernung des General-Basses" (1711, Hamburg, page 226) appears convincing. The problem for me is our Bach community's prospective leap from

(1) "ok, granted, then, so this is indisputably the way this particular authority wanted continuo players to perform, when he gave his opinion in Hamburg, 1711, and yes, Dreyfus is wrong regarding this detail, " to

(2) "this is the [only] way all secco-style recitatives must be played, in all Bach cantatas 1707--1748 ".

We still do not know (I presume) whether Bach in Leipzig 1724 agreed with Heinichen in Hamburg 1711, so to speak (neither do we know whether Bach knew about Heinichen or his book in the first place?). I'm making the simple point that (1) does not (in itself) imply (2).

The list's continued continuo discussion reminds me of the Bigger Continuo Sound that is sometimes used for other baroque works; I don't know whether Bach occasionally called for More Forces for the continuo parts, in his cantatas or elsewhere? E.g. in some of the secular cantatas?

I'm e.g. quite fond of Freiburger Barockorchester's version of Le Quattro Stagioni (with Gottfried Graf von der Goltz in the lead, DHM, 1997), which employs a jolly band of some 17-18 musicians (they're not easy to count) in one Big Continuo Group:
2 violincelli, violone, violo da gamba, lirone, contrabasso, leuto, 2 citteri, arciliuto, 3 guitars (!), tiorba, cetarone, clavicembalo, organo legno/regale, arpa doppio, arpanetta.
This group easily outnumbers (but does not out-sound) the "orchestra", with 10 strings plus vd Goltz. They spell out all their historically informed reasons for allowing themselves such a mixed continuo band in the CD booklet. The result is splendid.

I'm mentioning this example also to make the elementary point that rather different interpretations of "how to do the recitatives" can all be effective and successful. This should of course not stop us from further enquires into "how Bach really meant it", however.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 29, 2005):
Nils Lid Hjort wrote:
< I'm e.g. quite fond of Freiburger Barockorchester's version of Le Quattro Stagioni (with Gottfried Graf von der Goltz in the lead, DHM, 1997), which employs a jolly band of some17-18 musicians (they're not easy to count) in one Big Continuo Group:
2 violincelli, violone, violo da gamba, lirone, contrabasso, leuto, 2 citteri, arciliuto, 3 guitars (!), tiorba, cetarone, clavicembalo, organo legno/regale, arpa doppio, arpanetta.
This group easily outnumbers (but does not out-sound) the "orchestra", with 10 strings plus vd Goltz. They spell out all their historically informed reasons for allowing themselves such a mixed continuo band in the CD booklet. The result is splendid. >
The Big Band Continuo sound can be quite exciting. The recent telecast of Opera Atelier's production of Lully's "Persee" used a huge contunuo group with everything imaginable that could be plucked, played or strummed. I know that is very different from Bach's preferences, but I've always wondered if the St. John Passion (BWV 245) used organ, harpisichord and lute in varying combinations -- they were certainly all present in the choir loft. The only aspect of B.B.C. I dislike is the wearying sound of 16' Violone in secco recits.

Eric Bergerud wrote (November 29, 2005):
[To Nils Lid Hjort] This subject came up a few months back. Below is a post made by yours truly at the time:

I'm a great fan of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata cycle but can hardly voice any opinion on musical issues raised recently. However, I do believe that Harnoncourt touches on some of the matters raised in his essay written in 1970 that accompanies his (to my ears) wonderful SMP (BWV 244).

"The difference between the notation of the Evangelist's recitatives in the score and in the holograph organ part is rather striking.

This discrepancy has led to a great deal of confused speculation. The score was written after 1741, and the parts, it seems, shortly afterwards. As is well known, it is standard musicological practice to regard the chronologically latest source as an expression of the composer's final will. In this case the version contained in the parts is taken to represent an emendation of the score. However, apart from the fact that it would have been most unusual if Bach had wanted to make such significant alterations after having devoted more than 15 years to this work, it is quite implausible that he would suddenly have wanted to introduce a new style of accompanying recitatives in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). In all the sacred and secular cantatas and in the St John Passion (BWV 245) he had notated the recitatives as in the score of the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244).

In the booklet for our recording of the St John Passion (BWV 245) we pointed out the difference between what is notated and the actual performance of the recitatives. In secco recitatives, going by rules that were repeatedly written down, each bass note was only allowed to be played briefly (by the cello and accompanying keyboard instrument). This convention was well understood by ever continuo player at the time. However, the notation had to show the correct harmonies between the vocal line and the bass, whereby in practice the bass note continued to sound only in the listener's imagination. In this way it was always possible to understand the text quite clearly. Similarly, there are differences between what is written and what is played in the case of final appoggiaturas (here, in the above example, the two c1 had to be notated on "aber" because a dissonance would be incorrect at this juncture. However, going by the rules, the singer sings d1 c1). In the continuo part Bach exceptionally notated what was actually played and not the normal and orthographically correct long bass notes, as in the score. He probably wanted to ensure that the differences between the short notes in the Evangelist's recitative and the full note values in the recitativo accompangnato of Christ's recitatives, which were hardly noticeable in the part, would not lead to confusion. There is in fact no difference between the original scores of the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) and the St John Passion (BWV 245). Differences only exist in modern reprints because the parts are incorrectly interpreted as being Bach's revisions.

Bach was clearly at pains to write down everything as precisely as possible for the musician. This ran counter to the freedom usually accorded to performers in the 18th century, when it was the practice to allow singers and instrumentalists to improvise embellishments in solos and sometimes even in accompanying parts. Bach did not want to leave such things to chance in his works, and thus wrote out all the embellishments in full. Many of Bach's melismas and coloratura passages must be understood as written-out ornaments, and these of course have to be played far more lightly than essential melody notes.

One arrives at the natural tempo by extrapolating the actual motif in its unembellished form..."

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 29, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
>>I'm a great fan of the Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantata cycle but can hardly voice any opinion on musical issues raised recently. However, I do believe that Harnoncourt touches on some of the matters raised in his essay written in 1970 that accompanies his (to my ears) wonderful SMP (BWV 244).<<
There are some remarkable statements here (not all of them factually true based upon research since that date), but this is a relatively early date in his career of performing Bach. The Bach Cantata cycle had not yet begun and he changed his mind on many issues reversing himself from earlier positions that he had taken. It is great to see such flexibility in thinking, but imho he changed in the wrong direction, forgetting what he had quoted about Bach putting down in notes everything he wanted to hear. By 1995, Harnoncourt was writing as follows: (Was is Wahrheit? 1995, p. 26) "Buchstabentreue ist nicht Werktreue" essentially 'following and performing exactly what Bach put down in the score is not being faithful to the work itself -- the creative freedoms and license granted to the performers by the performers themselves when they believe they are being faithful to Bach's intentions is the most important element in performing his music.'

Do a search on 'Harnoncourt' and 'recitative' on the BCW and you might be able to find my previous discussion of where Harnoncourt later used anachronistic sources for trying to prove that the theory of shortened accompaniment for secco recitatives was documented clearly by a Jean Baumgartner c. 1774. Baumgartner does not even distinguish between church and chamber or opera style of secco accompaniment. Based on shaky information such as this, Harnoncourt then followed what he thought was the manner in which secco recitatives were performed under Bach's direction.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (November 29, 2005):
[To Nils Lid Hjort I do not understand the logic if there is any of such a large continuo group.

Personally, I prefer to limit my continuo players to no more than 5 at max and prefer 1 either an organist or a harpsichordist. If the literature concerning Bach's instrumental players is true then we can safely assume that Bach's continuo players were reduced to less than 4. Harmonicourt also seems to keep his continuo players to less than this. These days unless one is well versed in Jazz; a continuo group is likely to fall on it's face one of the better reasons to limit continuo to one player anc certainly no more than 5.

Neil Mason wrote (November 29, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] I'm intrigued that you think Harnoncourt has changed his mind, but for the wrong reasons, when it seems that your views on HIP performance turn on the fact that you don't like Harnoncourt's early performances.

I'm inclined to believe that someone of Harnoncourt's world-class musicality might change his mind for musical reasons, in other words to make the sound more musical.

Neither am I convinced thaBach wrote down all he wanted to hear. One only has to consider the recitatives to realise that there are implied appogiaturas etc that are not notated in the music.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 1, 2005):
Neil Mason wrote:
>>I'm intrigued that you think Harnoncourt has changed his mind, but for the wrong reasons, when it seems that your views on HIP performance turn on the fact that you don't like Harnoncourt's early performances.<<
If you were to check out (on the BCW) my comparisons of various recordings of a given Bach cantata where Harnoncourt's recording was among his first dozen or so of Erato series, you will find that I generally found these early Bach cantata recordings by Harnoncourt to be among the best in the series. After this, imho, I perceive a steady decline as Harnoncourt attempted to 'standardize' his approach by shifting away from some of his earlier practices to include more of those which tended towards extremes in shortening notes unnecessarily and paying much less attention to obtaining a 'beautiful, cantabile sound' than chopping Bach's wonderful phrases into many tiny bits. The change, as he documents in his writings, was toward emphasizing the 'ugly' because the 'beautiful' was too boring in his estimation. The 'beautiful' was identified with what the ordinary listener had come to expect from good classical music in performance, but now Harnoncourt decided it was time for something else. There are still a number of performers today who follow Harnoncourt's lead in presenting 'ugly' sounds because they think that this type of performance has authentic validity, but nothing could be further from the truth as far as Bach's own performances of his sacred works is concerned.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Harnoncourt & Leonhardt - General Discussions - Part 7 [Performers]

Neil Mason wrote (December 1, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks for clarifying your views.

I still find this intriguing, for it does seem to me that Harnoncourt is now branching out into a wider repertoire than before.

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 2, 2005):
[To Neil Mason] I would be more impressed if Harnoncourt (or Leonhardt) recanted or issued some indication of regret for their earlier cycle: a kind of "My Bad" declaration. Harnoncourt, especially, emerged from the cantata cycle with his reputation quite unscathed. I have Harnoncourt CDs from the 80s and later that roam very broadly and are very good indeed. I don't take a broadening or changing of horizon as a repudiation of other work.

I for one remain very grateful to Harnoncourt and Leonhardt for their great accomplishment. It is quite clear that nobody else is going to use all male choir - one of the few practices we know without doubt that was followed by Bach - and thus their cycle will remain distinctive, unique and to my ears beautiful.

 

Operatic & Liturgical Recitative

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 93 - Discussions

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 4, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Also recit generally employs a less focused or structured melodic line. It is, from its roots in the Italian Camerata group more attuned to the rhythms and inflections of speech than conventional Cantata BWV 18 melody. >
A good argument could be made that Bach's recitative style owes as much to Lutheran chanting as to Italianate opera. There is a direct line of influence in melodic formulae and rhythmic cells which goes back to Schutz' German recitative style and ultimately to pre-Reformation chanting which was sung in highly rhythmiczed forms in the 16th century.

I'm half of the opinion that Bach's congregation would not have thought of recitative as some new-fangled foreign form but rather a development of a familiar form. In the McCreesh "Epiphany Mass" recording it is very instructive to hear German texts being sung as liturgical recitatives. I supect that by the 18th century, the chanting formulas had become quite rhythmic, and Bach's listeners may well have thought that the cantatas' recitatives were just another form of cantillation.

Julian Mincham wrote (July 4, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] I'm quite interested in this line of thought.

Can you quote any readily accessable references wher one might read more about this history?

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 4, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] I'm not sure if anyone has done any systematic work on it. I began to think about liturgical chanting as the real model even for Italian opera when the Tallis Choir of Toronto performed recreations of Renaissance and early Baroque masses. The interplay between the "secco" cantillations and the formal movements of the mass ordinary and motets sounded like opera to me. My gut feeling is that Bach saw the Evangelist parts in the passions and oratorios more in the tradition of Lutheran chanting than as a foreign intrusion -- although Italian recitative technique is certainly a strong influence.

Julian Mincham wrote (July 4, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] There may be some historical work to be done on this in trying to piece together the sorts of music Bach might have heard in his travels up to his mid thirties. From his various vists from that to Lübeck in 1705 he would have heard a range of performances including opera. I don't know if anyone has established whether he heard any Italian opera at any stage during the years 1705-1722---or, indeed what, if any Italian opera was performed in Germany at that time. (Thomas might have some info on this??)

The point here is that he used recit much less in his earlier cantatas than in his Leipzig cycles. This might have been a matter of local fashion and custom:- or it might be that Bach heard recit examples from various cultural sources which he copied and developed later on.

Or it might be a combination of both!

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 4, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
>>From his various vists from that to Lübeck in 1705 he would have heard a range of performances including opera. I don't know if anyone has established whether he heard any Italian opera at any stage during the years 1705-1722---or, indeed what, if any Italian opera was performed in Germany at that time.<<
I have just checked this out quickly with information given in the MGG1: Lübeck would not have provided Bach any opportunity for hearing any operas at all during his extended visit there at the end of 1705; however, in passing through Hamburg on his way to and from Lübeck, there was an active opera house. Unfortunately, this opera had existed only from 1678 and was heavily dominated by German opera even though a short, but failed attempt was made to introduce Italian opera. Quantz reports that in 1693 Reinhard Keiser began dominating completely all opera productions with his German style. Beginning in 1703 Händel and Mattheson were involved in preparing such productions by Keiser (Händel's "Almira" Jan 8, 1705 - Händel still had not had any direct experience with Italian opera, but "Almira" did contain 42 German-style arias and 15 - or only 13 as indicated in the score- in the Italian style) and eventually composing operas themselves. These would have been predominantly German in character when Bach might have heard them in 1705 (who knows? Bach may have met personally with Händel and Mattheson at that time.)

Bach returned to Hamburg in 1720, where another opportunity for hearing predominantly German-style operas presented itself.

Bach's experience with the Dresden opera (predominantly Italian-style opera) in the 1730s does not concern us here in regard to BWV 93.

The technical term used by German Bach scholars for the blend of chorale and free/secco recitative is "Tropieren" ("to trope" or the troping of a chorale melody and text within a recitative - this seems to be borrowed from its more important musicological sense involving the inclusion of other text/chant elements within the mass of the Catholic church.) Konrad Küster has a chapter heading "Die Tropierung des Chorals" in Bach's 2nd yearly cycle of cantatas in his "Bach Handbuch" Bärenreiter, 1999. He states that beginning with BWV 93, these chorale citations, rather than appearing as haphazardly punctuating a recitative, they now appear as deliberate inclusions after which a poetic extension is added by the librettist. This is a trope. In contrast to BWV 190 earlier that same year where the choir presents the chorale melody and the solo voices the intervening material, now the solo voice sings everything alone.

Chris Rowson wrote (July 4, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Bach's experience with the Dresden opera (predominantly Italian-style opera) in the 1730s does not concern us here in regard to BWV 93. >
There was Italian opera in Dresden in 1717 too, that was the year they hired Lotti, Senesino etc for the wedding of the future August II/III. They were there until the big bust-up in 1720, after which Händel took his pick for London.

I understand from Wolff that Bach would also have been playing with a lot of Italian and Italian-style musicians in Cöthen – Amore Traditore is just the only one of his Italian cantatas that survived, there were probably many more.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 4, 2006):
[To Chris Rowson] I don't think we have to assume that Bach had to attend an opera in person to be influenced. He must have met hundreds of musicians both in Leipzig and on his travels who showed him their scores. He probably never heard Vivaldi played by an orchestra, but he certainly knew the works well enough to make organ arrnagements.

Eric Bergerud wrote (July 5, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Wolff suggests a strong possibility that Bach at least viewed preparations for an Italian opera in Dresden during a visit there in 1717. (p. 183, paperback edition.)

Eric Bergerud wrote (July 5, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] Wasn't there both an opera and French ballet in Dresden? I can remember reading somewhere that Bach used to occasionally take some of his children to hear the "pretty tunes" at the opera. Leipzig (or even Weimar) were not holes in the wall. I should think Bach saw a great deal of printed or written music over the years. He eventually sold it didn't he?

Tom Hens wrote (July 5, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< He probably never heard Vivaldi played by an orchestra, >
He certainly did: his own orchestra, the Leipzig Collegium Musicum for one. BWV 1065, for four harpsichords and strings, is Vivaldi. And at the time he was making those solo organ and harpsichord transcriptions in Weimar, from printed editions brought along by Duke Johann Ernst from a trip to Amsterdam, it's hard to imagine he wasn't also playing them with the court musicians.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 5, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< He certainly did: his own orchestra, the Leipzig Collegium Musicum for one. BWV 1065, for four harpsichords and strings, is Vivaldi. >
The quadruple concerto is a lot more Bach than Vivaldi. Is there documentary evidence about the Collegium's repertoire?

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 5, 2006):
Primary sources from Bach's time and German language/Lutheran tradition (Heinichen, Mattheson, etc.) make a distinction between operatic and liturgical recitative (here specifically Bach's recitatives in his sacred cantatas). This is confirmed in the MGG1 article on the recitative.

As appearing in the context of a recitative from a cantata, the 'troping' or interpolation of phrases taken from a chorale text and melody is more difficult to track back to a specific source.

Within the Lutheran tradition throughout the 16th and 17th centuries in Germany there is something called a liturgical recitative. Robin A Leaver (Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2006, acc. 7/4/06)
explains the following:

>>Luther stressed the proclamatory role that music should have in the liturgy, and his followers developed the Latin formula ‘viva voce evangelii’ to express this understanding of music as the ‘living voice of the Gospel’. Luther therefore directed that biblical lections should continue to be sung, and in the Deutsche Messe he gave in detail the specific melodic formulae for the clergy to chant the Epistle and Gospel. This liturgical recitative continued in Lutheran worship generally until the 18th century, but the practice also gave rise to other genres closely related to the singing of the Gospel.<<

This certainly would have affected those recitative passages in Bach's Passions and cantatas where the Bible is being quoted. Such recitatives need not come from an Italian opera tradition. This still does not explain, however, how lines (music & text) from a chorale could be inserted into a recitative.

Friedhelm Krummacher (same citation as for Leaver above) points in his history of the German church cantata to Erdmann Neumeister as introducing the recitative and aria into the church cantata after 1701:
>>When Erdmann Neumeister introduced madrigalesque poetry into church music after 1701 (together with the modern recitative and aria) he likened the cantata to ‘a piece out of an opera’, and C.F. Hunold defined the genre similarly in 1706.<<

Some important points to remember here:

1. Experimentation with recitative and aria forms in figural church music, existed in the last few decades of the 17th century in Germany.

2. When someone like Erdmann Neumeister, a theologian, states that his cantata texts with 'recitative and aria' forms are like 'a piece out of an opera', this could more easily refer to the German type of opera (Reinhard Keiser, etc.) with which more people in Germany would be familiar rather than the Italian type which was only gradually gaining in favor. To be sure, musicians/composers like Bach would recognize the similarites (and differences) between both types.

What follows is an excerpt by Krummacher on the German church cantata tradition after which I will include another excerpt by the same author specifically addressing Bach's cantatas (including something about the recitative and his use of chorale melodies):

>>German theorists after 1700, including Walther, Mattheson and J.A. Scheibe, defined the cantata mainly in terms of the Italian type. That Mattheson was against using the term for the Kirchenstück shows that he was aware of the affinity between it and the Italian cantata. [remember that Bach rarely used the term 'Cantata' for his sacred cantatas] When Erdmann Neumeister introduced madrigalesque poetry into church music after 1701 (together with the modern recitative and aria) he likened the cantata to ‘a piece out of an opera’, and C.F. Hunold defined the genre similarly in 1706. The term itself did not gain currency with the Neumeister ‘reform’, though some have argued that it should be used exclusively for those compositions of the Bach period that are characterized by madrigalesque poe. To do so, however, would be to ignore the similarities that exist between the ‘older’ and ‘more recent’ church cantata (to use Spitta’s terminology) – similarities that were already obvious to contemporaries such as Walther and Mattheson.

The differentiation of types within the genre presents few problems as far as the 18th-century cantata, with its madrigalesque texts, is concerned; recitative and aria formed the basis of the secular form, to which, in the church cantata of the Bach period, choruses and arioso sections to biblical or chorale texts might be added. The less stable forms of the older church cantata are more problematic. In contrast to Blume’s somewhat makeshift labels, such as Erbauungskantate (‘devotional cantata’), Predigtkantate (‘sermon cantata’) and Perikopenkantate (‘pericopean cantata’), together with the adjectives ‘lyrical’, ‘contemplative’ or ‘dramatic’, Georg Feder (MGG1) proposed a distinction on the basis of the type of text used. These are the Spruch (scriptural text), the Ode (modern poetic text) and the Chorale (Protestant hymn), which can be combined to form, for example, the Spruchodenkantate. But this conveys only the textual basis and not the musical form, and therefore the terms ‘concerto’, ‘aria’ and ‘chorale’ may be usefully introduced; these terms were current when the works were written and appeared as headings to individual movements. ‘Concerto’ was used for vocal and instrumental settings of mainly scriptural texts, but also of aria and chorale texts (the ‘aria concerto’ and ‘chorale concerto’ respectively); stylistically these movements combine concertato and contrapuntal (motet) elements to form what was sometimes referred to as the ‘motetto concertato’. ‘Aria’ signifies the strophic song and its variants, ranging from strictly strophic settings and others with melodic variations over a repeated bass to episodic and other forms approaching the 18th-century aria. The term ‘chorale’ was applied to a movement in which a borrowed chorale melody was worked out in one of several compositional methods. (A musically free setting of a chorale text would be called an aria or concerto, rather than a chorale.)

This scheme does not cover the (predominantly solo) arioso settings of biblical texts, which parallel the later recitative and are in fact derived from Italian monody and the few-voiced concerto. These arioso sections were not given a designation of their own, and they usually defy formal characterization; they figure prominently in certain types of work (multi-sectional dialogues, psalm compositions and Gospel settings) which cannot be allocated a place in the typology of the cantata.

From about 1660, when large manuscript repertories were being formed in the leading German musical centres, the printing of complex music became increasingly difficult, partly because of the restricted market and the technical limitations of printing from type. Simpler pieces with few parts, including some by A. Hammerschmidt, J.R. Ahle and Briegel, continued to be printed, but in many cases the music is inferior or conventional, and there are only rare instances of true cantatas. The exceptions are some volumes printed shortly before 1700 containing genuine cantatas, some of them of good quality, by G.C. Wecker (1695), Georg Bronner (1696), J.P. Krieger (1697) and Nicolaus Niedt (1698). The printed repertory virtually came to an end with these works, however, and for a long time after 1700 only occasional music was printed, and no cantata collections except for some by G.P. Telemann.

The decline in publication was complemented by an increase in the manuscript repertory, in which varying characteristics reflect local and regional conditions and requirements. Approximately 50 manuscript collections are known, of which about a fifth survive, and they indicate a repertory whose variety helps to account for the limited market for printed works. Contrary to what has sometimes been thought, it was not the regional differences in the people themselves that brought about this striking variety. More important were the differences in the structure and organization of musical life resulting from varying reactions to the new impulses of reform orthodoxy and Pietism. In the central Lutheran areas (especially Saxony), where the organization of the school Kantoreien remained intact under the unbroken sway of orthodoxy, figural music could draw on a concentration of forces under the leadership of the Kantor, as in Leipzig. Where the ties with the schools had been loosened, Ratskapellen were formed, making smaller and rather more expert ensembles available to the municipal Kapellmeister, as in Danzig and the imperial cities of south Germany. Again, if a central Kantorei was unable to provide a constant supply of figural music to all churches, the gap was filled by the work of individual organists, as at Lübeck, Hamburg and other north German cities.

By contrast court musicians, instead of being part of a stable bourgeois tradition, were dependent on the changing tastes and requirements of a noble master who could determine the texts of their compositions and the use to which they were put. Court musical establishments (and hence the music itself) varied a good deal, while the organists also tended to vary their texts and structures in settings for smaller forces. Figural music in the centralized municipal Kantoreien, on the other hand, was usually bound by liturgical traditions and the resources of school choirs. When the organists wrote vocal music they tended to compose few-voiced concertos, arias and mixed forms for Communion and special occasions, rather than music linked to the sermon. The figural music of municipal Kantors and Kapellmeister, on the other hand, was devoted principally to the cantata placed between the Gospel (or Credo) and the Credo hymn just before the sermon, and related to the pericope and its interpretation.

All these factors, together with the nature of the texts and the forces used, affected the structure of the music itself. The vocal music of north German organists, with their independent status, showed a predilection for non-schematic forms and intense expression; that of the central German Kantors tended to perpetuate well-established structures, often in annual cycles; and the music of court musicians, despite its variety, revealed a common interest in newer developments, such as extended aria forms, inserted recitatives and virtuoso solo sections. After 1700 these differences disappeared, or at least became less apparent. Following Neumeister’s textual reforms, the standard recitative and aria began to characterize the cantatas of municipal and court composers, and the composition of annual cycles, often with a uniform structure, cancelled out the differences even more after organized and somewhat commercial methods had been established for the interchange of musical works.<<

>>The history of the genre undoubtedly culminates in Bach's cantatas. They took current texts and forms as their point of departure and, like those of his contemporaries, are adapted to local circumstances and are grouped together in annual cycles. In their structure, their high quality and their variety of formal combinations, however, Bach's works are unique. The few cantatas composed in Bach's early period (up to 1708) mainly reflect the central German tradition with which he was familiar. They include one chorale cantata and one psalm cantata (BWV 4 and BWV 195), settings of psalm texts with chorale verses or freely composed poetry (BWV 131 and BWV 150) and more extensive combinations of texts for a town council ceremony and a funeral service (BWV 71 and BWV 106). Chorale combinations also occur in the Weimar cantatas written after 1714 (many of them to texts by Salomo Franck), which show new formal developments and, increasingly, involve a concertante instrumental part. The secular cantatas of the Cöthen period further emphasize such concertante features. During his first years in Leipzig Bach concentrated on church cantatas. For all its astonishing diversity, the first cycle (1723–4) shows remarkable unity of purpose. At the same time, Bach's systematic revival of his Weimar cantatas suggests a period of concentrated work, particularly apparent in the opening choral movements. The obbligato instrumental part is gradually extended (culminating in BWV 67, BWV 104 and BWV 37); in three cases Bach reverts to strict motet setting (BWV 179, BWV 64 and BWV 144), combines poetic texts with chorale quotations (BWV77, 25 and 48) and extends chorale settings with recitatives (BWV 138, BWV 95 and BWV 73). While Bach's expressive style of cantional setting became established in the closing chorales with instrumental figuration, the arias and duets constantly explore new ways of combining the vocal and instrumental parts.His growing differentiation of the recitatives is particularly obvious in the accompagnato, which increasingly shapes the motivic writing of the instruments. The cantatas do not follow a single typical pattern, however, less because of the absence of homogeneous texts than out of Bach's dislike for anything schematic. The second cycle of chorale cantatas (1724–5) is particularly self-contained; it breaks off before Easter, but is partly completed by later works. This cycle, too, is without contemporary parallels. While G.P. Telemann's few chorale cantatas confine the use of chorale elaborations to the simple outer movements and do not use them in the inner movements, Bach's anonymous librettist adapted the texts of the chorale's stanzas to provide material for arias and recitatives, thereby fully realizing the possibilities of the genre's rich tradition; it is only in later additions that original chorale texts are used word for word. While concerto and chorale movements merge in the opening movements, many different combinations, including chorale quotations, occur in the inner movements, so that the format is constantly undergoing individual modification. There are analogous tendencies in the third annual cycle, which is less complete, and in further works here the first movements in particular achieve a very high degree of compositional independence. After about 1730 the number of works that can be dated, including both secular cantatas and the later chorale cantatas, is even smaller. Bach's obituary states that there were once five cycles, but the actual number lost to us remains uncertain, even if the setting of an annual cycle on texts by Picander (1728) is taken into account. However, the cantatas that have survived reflect an artistic diversity that is striking by comparison with Bach's contemporaries. Motet-like movements, chorale elaborations and canonic structures clearly hark back to older traditions, but there are no parallels elsewhere for the combinatory style of the tutti movements, concertante rather than fugal in structure, the thematic development of the arias and the sensitive word-setting in the recitatives. The close connection between Bach's music and its texts has its roots in his dense working out of themes; this is also a prerequisite for the practice of ‘parody’ (adapting the music to a different text), which entails the maximum freedom of arrangement, particularly in the later works. The process of ‘parody’ does not indicate a dismissive approach to the music, nor is it simply a labour saving device. On the contrary, it provides evidence of the richness of the structures that Bach thought worthy of reworking. From the beginning the church cantata was subject to criticism, particularly from theologians. Before 1700 this was concerned less with the genre itself than with its technical complexities, its excessive use of coloratura and its obscuring of the text. Those whose criticisms were to some extent in line with early Pietism included Theophil Grossgebauer (1661) and J. Muscovius (1694), while those who advocated figural music (and were rather closer to reform orthodoxy) included J.C. Dannhauer (1642) and H. Mithobius (1665). Only after 1700 did discussion centre on the form of the cantata, and particularly on its adoption of ‘operatic’ recitative and aria. Criticism was voiced by theologians such as Christian Gerber (e.g in 1703), by musicians such as J.H. Buttstett (1716) and by writers such as Joachim Meyer (1726, 1728). Defence of the new cantata as a modern form of textual interpretation was left to musicians such as Georg Motz (1703), Mattheson (1713, 1717 etc.) and later Caspar Ruetz (1750–53), rather than to theologians such as Neumeister and Tilgner (1716). The fact that the dispute was long-lasting does not merely indicate that the cantata had to make its way in the face of opposition. Although critical misgivings as to its function lacked any real justification, they did attest to its wide cultivation. In the later 18th century criticism was levelled more at the petrifaction of the structure and at the allegorical character of the texts, features that made the cantata seem outmoded and fossilized to the Enlightenment and the age of Sensibility.<<

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 5, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< That Mattheson was against using the term for the Kirchenstück shows that he was aware of the affinity between it and the Italian cantata. [remember that Bach rarely used the term 'Cantata' for his sacred cantatas] >
This is fascinating material. Perhaps our usual nomenclature of "sacred cantatas" and "secular cantatas" doesn't represent Bach's own concept of genre.

Has anyone extracted the various terms (e.g. "concerto", "dramma per musica") which Bach did use and compile lists? Or was Bach's terminology less categorical and more tied to function?

 

Choral Recitatives

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 20, 2008):
Russell Telfer wrote:
< 'My' group are not professionals, so if we attempt collectively to sing a recit - Camerata style as described - we're sure to make a terrible sound of it. But remember, we're doing it for study purposes, so all is forgiven.
I'm sure, with strict metre, professionals would sing as one, but not the case here. >
Karl Richter has his full choir sing the concluding recitative of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). I've often wondered if this was an old Romantic tradition which made the oratorio sound like Beethoven's Ninth.

William Hoffman wrote (May 20, 2008):
William Hoffman responds [to Douglas Cowling]:
Some 40 years ago I struggled thru sight-singing in college (moveable "do" system) and in the Melodia Book, Ninth Series, there it is, No. 28 ("full exposition of chromatics"), "Thy rebuke hath broken his heart...." Fortunately, we didn't get that far in the class.

So, has anyone participated in a Händel Messiah Sing-Along that included the recitatives? It's unnerving to hear so many well-intentioned singers attempt to do these camerata- or repieni-style, especially the sopranos at "And Suddenly" (or not so suddenly).

Remember what the road to hell (and the musical proc) are paved with. At first I just thought a lot of singers didn't know how to sing recitatives. Then I realized, as it has been pointed out, that recitatives take all kinds of inflections, liberties, etc. and no two singers have the same mind-set. It's sort of like the reversal of Joshua Rifkin's one-singer-to-a-part.

At any rate, like the dog with three legs, it's amazing to just hear a choral version of Messiah recitatives with everyone ending together (more more than less). I must say that I am impressed with most of the recent historically-informed performanes of SMP's (BWV 244) narration, with such engaging drama (and liberties)! We knew it was always there in the SJP (BWV 245).

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 20, 2008):
William hoffman wrote;
>Some 40 years ago I struggled thru sight-singing in college (moveable "do" system) and in the Melodia Book,<
Slow down. Did you not tell us you are a graduae student in Bach Studies?
Now claiming the title of World's Oldest Graduate Student (WOGS)?

I am almost at a loss for words. Almost. You can fetch the coffee.

The reports from PA conference were welcome, despite not much response. What can I say, I read and enjoyed them.

 

Online Recitative Sources

Douglas Cowling wrote (June 16, 2014):
An interesting website which provides links to online facsimiles of continuo treatises: http://tinyurl.com/qe386af

 

Will be continued…

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 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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Last update: ýNovember 8, 2014 ý20:17:09