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Recitatives in Bach’s Vocal Works
Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Secco Recitatives

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 3, 2003):
I have finally come across a statement by Alfred Dürr regarding the so-called 'shortened' bc accompaniment (for secco recitatives) which requires that the long, held notes in the bc be shortened according to some 'esoteric custom' that was not well-documented during Bach's lifetime. Simply put, as a very general rule, Bach wrote the long notes in the score and these same long notes were copied to the original parts. Since Bach was generally very careful about notation, setting down on paper exactly what he had wanted, then performing these notes (by shortening them considerably) is contrary to the composer's wishes. Also, this performance innovation was initiated in the late 60s or early 70s as part of the HIP movement; before that time, for about 250 years (I base this time span on a rough estimate beginning with c. 1725,) these secco recitatives were performed according to Bach's wishes as written in his scores.

Dürr, in his book on the SJP (BWV 245), first published in 1988 (3rd edition 1999) gives his opinion on this matter for the 1st time, as far as I can determine. In other detailed scholarly studies such as that given in the NBA KB for the SMP (BWV 244), Dürr remains above the fray and simply reports what 'shortened' accompaniment is without commenting on its validity. In this more recent book (on the SJP p. 129), he finally gives his personal opinion on this matter:

"Ich halte es daher persönlich für sinnvoller, die Rezitative (he is referring to the secco recitatives) entweder durchweg wie notiert -- also ausgehalten -- zu begleiten oder aber durchweg kurz, allenfalls mit ausgehaltenen Baßnoten." ["For this reason I personally think that it makes more sense to perform/accompany the recitatives exactly as written from the beginning to the end, which means holding out each long note for its entire value; or possibly, as another option, to play them only with shortened (chords - not mixing both shortened and held chords), but, in any case, the bass notes are always held out for their full value."] In other words, Dürr wants to retain the tradition that had existed before the HIP mvt. began confusing the situation with theories that are not adequately and comprehensively documented. At most, Dürr concedes that the figured chords (which on the harpsichord die away very quickly anyhow) played on an organ might be shortened in length, but not necessarily; however each bass note (perhaps in the pedal of the organ) should be held out for its full value no matter what.

Essentially Dürr is reacting against the politically astute methods that conductors such as Herreweghe, Leusink, and Suzuki (there are probably others - I would have to go back and listen to other recent (past 10 years) recordings to find others) have employed whereby they mix both styles of secco recitative accompaniment, thus having it both ways: they are committed to HIP, but then they are also 'free enough' to occasionally play the secco recitatives the way that they had always been performed for the last 250 years.

In his footnote to this statement, Dürr even questions the validity of the Bärenreiter performing edition (based on the NBA) where instructional comments added there require that the "lang notierten Baßnoten heutiger Praxis folgend -- zu verkürzen" ["the long notes notated for the bass (in the bc) should be shortened according to present-day performing practice."] Here Dürr particularly questions the phrases, "present-day" and "should be shortened," by placing quotes around these words along with exclamation and question marks (!?) to express his indignation with these claims.

Personally, Dürr's scholarly opinion on this matter carries more weight with me than that of Laurence Dreyfus, or even Arnold Schering, who first proposed this 'crazy' notion back in the 1930s. Dürr's statements confirm, in a way, what I have determined on my own: this HIP theory will be short-lived, since it is based on very shaky evidence. For those who wish to pursue this matter further, Aryeh has assembled material on this subject on his site.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (January 5, 2003):
< At most, Dürr concedes that the figured chords (which on the harpsichord die away very quickly anyhow) played on an organ might be shortened in length, but not necessarily; however each bass note (perhaps in the pedal of the organ) should be held out for its full value no matter what. >
I would prefer this system. The shortened continuo chords would complement the oboe or string parts in a number of recitatives where the oboes/strings are silent except at the harmonic shifts where they have shortened block chords (e.g. "Was Gott dem Abraham verheissen") or brief flourishes (e.g. "Warum wollt ihr erschrecken").

 

Bach-recitatives

Are Soholt wrote: (February 11, 2003):
I am new in this group, and I see that it may be a great place for collecting information.

I am working on a thesis (Norwegian Master) on the evaangelist-role in Bach’s pasions, and I wonder if some of you may hlp me with some research.

1: Does anyone know of recordings of the St. John where the strings plays the "holo" with "Jesus"?

2: Which recordings (of what you know) are the continougroup playing long notes in the recits? (Not for "Jesus", but for the rest of the recits, e.i. enavgelist, Peter, Pilato etc.)

3: Has anyone something interessting thing to say about the evangelist-role? favourite singers etc.

I hope some could help me!

Thomas Radleff wrote (February 11, 2003):
Are Soholt asked:
3: Has anyone something interessting thing to say about the evangelist-role? favourite singers etc. >
Regarding the SJP recordings I have heard, the most impressive evangelist part is given by Ian Honeyman on the Vanguard live recording 1996, with Paul Dombrecht conducting Il Fondamento. It´s not just the notes that he sings, but in every syllable that he is expressing, he is completely inside of each moment´s dramatic contents, full of energy, with a wide range of emotional subtleness. Actually, I would describe his performance rather in terms of theatre or human life, than in musical categories, but his musical qualities, as far as I can judge them, are superb.

But I also remember an English SJP recording (which I don´t have anymore), B.Britten conducting and probably P.Pears as Evangelist - worth considering.

A personal remark: I happened to "discover" Bach´s musical cosmos not before some 15 years ago. Listening to the Passionen for the first time, I was struck and overwhelmed by the dramatic power of these works. Not too much aquainted with oratorios and opera, but myself working in theatre as an actor, I was surprised that a story (that is well known already ! ) can be told in a most exciting manner "only" by music ! - and maybe even better than in a collaboration of several arts on stage. Immedieately Brecht´s esthetics came to my mind - paradox enough, as he was far from any religiousity (well, maybe his political claims were some sort of faith), and
the music of Hanns Eisler, Dessau a.o.sounds so different, and was composed "anti-illusionistic", non-emotional on purpose. Later I found a remark somewhere in Brecht´s writings: he was surprised and impressed by Bach´s Passions when he occasionally listened to them. Actually that´s what he, and many more stage artists, have been looking for: an artificial, but effective form for representing human, or archetypical conditions. The evangelist´s role, of course, is the golden thread on which all this musical beads are lined up. A story-teller in an ancient sense.

Did Bach "invent" this role ? Is it already really a role in the gospels, or just prose ? How much did the librettists and the composer contribute ? Maybe that´s your field of research...

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 11, 2003):
Thomas Radleff wrote:
<: (...) The evangelist´s role, of course, is the golden thread on which all this musical beads are lined up. A story-teller in an ancient sense. Did Bach "invent" this r? Is it already really a role in the gospels or just prose ? >
Nope, Bach didn't invent this. The SMP by Heinrich Schuetz has an Evangelist. So does the SMP (1672) by Johann Sebastiani (1622-1683). And Italian operas had a Testo role long before that.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (February 12, 2003):
>Is it already really a role in the gospels?<
As far as I know, the evangelist is actually the author of the gospel. So in a SMP, the evangelist is actually Matthew (the tax collector turned disciple of Jesus) and in a SJP, the evangelist is John (one of the sons of Zebeddee).

To bring Schütz into this discussion even further, an interesting thing is done in the 17th-cent composer's historia "Die sieben worte" SWV 478, an almost microcosmic Passion play of sorts. The evangelists are SATB soli, and each gospel writer is given a voice (S: Luke, A: Mark, T: John, all 4: Matthew). The text is a scripture compilation from Vincentus Schuruk's "Buch der Heiligen und Martyrer" of 1617, and whichever gospel the text came from, it is this voice that sings. Actually, the entire narration is in secco recit-like in the Bach passions-and when Jesus (baritone or 2nd tenor) speaks it is in accompanied recit (or arioso)-exactly like in Bach's SMP. So it's interesting to remember that an evangelist doesn't necessarily have to be a tenor-its just that Bach, Händel and others employed the tenor in their passion oratorios (of course, with the Brockes play set by Händel and others, the evangelist is not an actual gospel writer, but merely a narrator). Another thing to note is that in Bach's oratorios employ a narrator in a similar fashion: a tenor soloist, who is not designated any arias, and simply tells the story in secco recit. I think this tradition stems from Schutz and many other of Bach's Lutheran predecessors.

note: all information regarding the Historia, "Die Sieben Worte" is from the liner notes to my only opporunity to ever listen to Schutz, my recording by Ensemble Clement Janequin, with Les Saqueboutiers de Toulouse under Dominique Visse, from HM France.

Pete Blue wrote (February 12, 2003):
[To Thomas Radleff] Thank you, Thomas, for praising the Dombrecht SJP, which I introduced to the List in a "review" here some time ago. We two may be among the privileged few who are familiar with it (it's promised for reissue next year). I agree that Honeyman is unique (indeed, IMO Honeyman rules, even over Van Kesteren and Equiluz), if not everyone's cup of tea. (Probably not Jim's, who, if I may be so presumptuous, is likely to continue to prefer the Richter SJP to the Dombrecht.)

 

Cantata performance practices, and precision to Urtext.... / Secco recitatives

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 22, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Tom (and anyone else), have you read the book Bach's Continuo Group: Players and Practices in his Vocal Works by Laurence Dreyfus? Harvard Univ Press, 1987. This would seem to be exactly your type of book, on the detail and history. Recommended! (Or perhaps you already have it?)

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 22, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] You were the one that recommended this book to me more than a year ago, as I wanted to 'get to the bottom' of this matter regarding the HIP practice, most evident, and as far as I know the earliest recorded examples of this in Harnoncourt & Leonhardt's Bach cantata series, concerning the manner in which the bc should be played in the secco recitatives. I investigated this rather thoroughly and am not persuaded by Dreyfus' arguments and examples (I checked them all out, but came up with the following in which it becomes quite clear that Dreyfus (and I believe Harnoncourt as well) relied heavily upon Schering's thesis (imagine Dreyfus being heavily influenced in this regard by Bach scholarship emanating from that infamous period!):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz.htm

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 22, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] So, basically, you just don't believe Dreyfus, one of the top experts in this field. Yeah, that explains some things....

Well, in the Deller recording of cantatas BWV 170 and BWV 54 (1954, Vanguard, with Leonhardt directing from the organ, and Harnoncourt also playing), all the recitatives are played secco except the second one in BWV 170, which has sustained strings.

Anybody have data on the recordings of Italian Baroque opera, oratorio, and cantatas (by anybody...including Händel) prior to 1954, on the way they handle recitativo secco in there? Or, for that matter, any other German-speaking composer of the 17th or early 18th century?

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Tom, I've read your page (thanks for the reference) and I'm curious about a couple of things.

First, the nature of your argument: To simplify horribly (and please forgive me), you seem to be saying in essence: "I believe Schering was wrong, and Harnoncourt and Dreyfus were duped by relying on Schering, and everybody who has heard Harnoncourt's recordings have similarly been duped. They're all wrong. QED." But, I reread Dreyfus' chapter myself this afternoon, and he is hardly using any of Schering at all, and certainly not to the central extent of which you accuse him...rather, he has done original research into contemporary sources (writings, and the music) and put together a cogent argument of his own. He cites plenty of documentation from 1717 through the early 19th century, and it doesn't look to me as if he's been duped by Schering or anyone else.

In fact, in his entire chapter on this subject of recitatives, pages 72-107, Dreyfus mentions Schering exactly one time, in one paragraph (the one you have excerpted), while giving his historical overview of 20th century discussions. He then leaves that all behind and does his own research, which is explicated in the next 50 pages of the chapter. I cannot see how you would believe Dreyfus was in any way unduly influenced by Schering...certainly not to the extent that you attribute to him (quite misleadingly) in your article. [Yes, Dreyfus also talks about Schering elsewhere in the book, but not in reference to recitative performance.]

How do you explain your disagreement with Dreyfus' reasoning, overall? And your willingness to set him (along with Schering) up as a scapegoat? It just looks to me as if you are being recklessly selective...that you perhaps looked up the places in Dreyfus' index where Schering was mentioned, used that to draw some fantastic and judgmental conclusions about Dreyfus, and then ignored the rest of his chapter about recitative!

====

Second, on the secco recitative style itself which you quite clearly dislike, I'm wondering what is the nature of your objection? Is it:

- Musical objection: you believe it makes the music sound bad or ineffectual in performance, and therefore should not be done.

- Historical objection: you believe Bach didn't do it, and therefore we must not also (even though we are more than 250 years later in another culture).

- Cognitive dissonance: you simply cannot reconcile the bizarre experience of seeing one thing on the page (following along with your Urtext scores) but hearing something remarkably different in your ears, and it drives you nuts to the point where you feel you must object to it. Obviously you're an intelligent person, and anything that causes cognitive dissonance in an intelligent mind would automatically be highly suspect...so there's "probably" something wrong with the practice there on that front, rather than something wrong with your mind, yes? ("I'm pretty sure there's nothing wrong with me, so there must be something wrong with the world"...that's how cognitive dissonance gets resolved most naturally. In your own words from your article: "Something is truly amiss here, in my estimation." And that something, according to you, is Schering along with everyone he has managed to mislead.)

Which? Some combination of those?

Myself, I have exactly zero problem with the cognidissonance angle, obviously, because I have spent years directly dealing with the nature of musical notation and its incompleteness. And musically, both from my personal experience performing this stuff and for all the reasons Dreyfus cites (from sources contemporary with the music), I think the practice helps the music sound wonderful. So, I have no objection there musically either. And historically, I believe it is impossible to know for sure one way or the other; even if it WERE possible to know, I don't think that such knowledge should be used as a limiting factor...the musical considerations should take precedence. I'm not a historicist, I'm a musician, and I listen to music as music.

So, since I have none of the objections that you seem to have (in whatever combination you happen to have them), I am absolutely unconvinced by your argument. What would you do to make it more convincing?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 23, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, check the important Heinichen quote which Dreyfus conveniently overlooked:

Heinichen quote: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Recitatives-Braatz-FB.htm

Near the bottom of this long page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Recitatives-2.htm you will find Alfred Dürr's comment on this matter (and while you are on this page, you might as well refresh your memory on some of Mattheson's ideas, which do not address the secco question directly, but contain other statements of musical commonsense and wisdom.

Brad, I don't expect you to change your opinion on this matter overnight, if it even occurs that you will ever change it at all. People have a right to hold on dearly to their opinions for as long as they wish. It is interesting for me to observe how rigidly you hold to the 'evidence' that Dreyfus has presented. This is the same type of "Buchstabentreu" that you accuse me of having in regard to Bach's Urtext, but now applied by you to musicological theories. Suddenly, there you are believing that an instrumental part that is hidden under pasted-on strips of paper and can only be viewed with an x-ray machine can be used as supporting evidence (if this isn't a red herring, I don't know what is!) to lend support to a very tenuous notion that an esoteric tradition existed among Bach's bc players that the long notes in Bach's secco recitatives were radically shortened contrary to the way the notes always appeared in Bach's scores.

Which part of Dreyfus' statement do you have difficulty in understanding: “The parts for the St. Matthew Passion present the most impressive evidence regarding Bach’s use of short accompaniment?” Does the superlative, "the most impressive evidence" mean something else to you than it does to me? Is there an insurmountable language problem here? It does not matter much which further insubstantial evidence is presented by Mendel and Dreyfus, the fact remains incontestable that Bach, in almost all cases (and for this one needs to remember the large quantity of autograph scores that still exist,) notated the bc in secco recitatives with long notes: whole notes and whole notes tied to other whole notes at the same pitch. Citing the number of pages that Dreyfus devoted to this subject means little until you have examined each (not as important as the 'cornerstone proof' in the parts for the SMP according to Dreyfus own admission) of the less important attempts to prove the existence of an esoteric tradition.

I am only asking you, or anyone else who may be trying to understand this issue, to step back or lift yourself above the established HIP 'mind-set' in this regard in order to see all of this from another perspective. You can always return to your original mind-set. Why not play the devil's advocate to the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory for just a little while? You will never know what it is that you might discover, perhaps even the true 'cornerstone' that this theory has been searching for all these years. In this case, you may possibly change my current way of viewing this subject. Until now I have not found convincing evidence, on the contrary, the Heinichen and Dürr quotes, which I found subsequently, supported my original contention. I consider the latter to be important sources (Heinichen as a contemporary who very likely had direct contact with Bach and Dürr because of his vast experience in working with Bach's scores.)

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Umm...Tom? How has Dreyfus "ignored" Heinichen if he spent three of his pages (specifically, 76-78) explicating Heinichen's treatise directly in his book?

Who's being selective here, Dreyfus or you?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 23, 2003):
Brad Lehman asked:
>> How has Dreyfus "ignored" Heinichen if he spent three of his pages (specifically, 76-78) explicating Heinichen's treatise directly in his book?<<
Brad, you are absolutely right in pointing this out. With a much clearer mind than I had late last night when I responded to your message, I have just pulled out Dreyfus’ book which I had not looked at for about a year. Lo and behold, there were the passages explaining Heinichen to which you have referred. I had even marked certain passages with red ink (I guess the red ink did not work effectively to implant this in my mind.) I hope you will not immediately take this lapse of memory on my part as a deliberate attempt to besmirch Dreyfus’ reputation, but rather treat this an honest mistake. I have recanted, is that enough?

Now, in regard to the explanation of the Heinichen passage which Dreyfus has translated into English on p. 76 (the original German is in his footnote on p. 237 ff.):

Did you notice to what great length Dreyfus goes in order to explicate this passage? Here are some of his comments on this rather short, 2-paragraph quotation: “This text presents something of a puzzle….But he [Heinichen] seems to have it backwards….Heinichen thus seems to give a contradictory reason for sustaining recitative chords. Indeed, Heinichen is not at all concerned with the length of bass notes at the beginning of his statement.”

Do you notice what Dreyfus is doing here? He is attempting to prepare the reader for one of the least likely interpretations of this text, one that has to suit the theory he is attempting to prove. First, Heinichen presents what seems to be a puzzle [Did Heinichen have serious problems in getting his ideas across?] Then, Heinichen is unable to present material in a simple logical sequence. Finally, the reader is faced with a contradiction on a rather simple matter of whether the bc bass notes are held out for their full values as written or not. Wow!

I find it much easier to understand what Heinichen is saying. Here is my present ‘take’ on the Heinichen quote without referring to what I wrote a year ago:

“It all depends upon which instruments are involved in playing the bc to be able to determine just how to play a recitative in the proper manner. There are many variations in the manner in which this is normally accomplished. In a ‘church’-recitative where the organ provides for continuous sound as well as echo/decay, it is not necessary to devise or use other methods [arpeggios or other types of broken chords as would be played on the harpsichord, theorbo, lute, bass viol, etc.] because you only need to place your hands on the appropriate organ keys and your hands should simply remain there [no ‘fancy stuff’ beyond the actual notes is necessary] until a different chord or note needs to be played. This procedure is repeated ad infinitum.

There are, however some extenuating circumstances where this may not apply, and it may then become necessary to interrupt the notes written in the bc by removing the fingers from the keys and creating thereby a pause. Here are some possible situations where this may occur:

1) in order to hear and observe better the singer or the accompanying instruments [which are still playing – in a secco recitative, this can only refer to the other instruments in the continuogroup as violone, harpsichord, lute, theorbo, bassoon, etc. Perhaps this is an indication that the organist is also conducting the recitative, if this becomes necessary at times.]

2) in order, only occasionally, to stop the organ sound from becoming annoying musically [a malfunctioning pipe that would call attention to itself, or the organ has only stops that are rather loud or penetrating and where there is no single stop that will be soft enough without overwhelming the voice – sometimes the chest organ in the Leusink Bach cantata series does just that.]

3) there may be other situations that arise. For this the accompanist on the organ must use good musical judgment so that the end result will remain pleasant for the ear."

These concerns about the organ [too loud; or with uneven voicing; or, as probably happened frequently in those days, “howling” notes where the key is released but the sound of the organ pipe lingers on; or having a singer with a small voice] prompted the other sources that Dreyfus quotes to come up with similar observations and instructions. The passages by Niedt, Kellner, and Stölzel indicate that the abbreviating of the notes of the bc when played on an organ may occasionally be allowed for the reasons already given in the Heinichen quotation. Only Niedt’s comment seems to go beyond this by suggesting that both the organ and bass player subsist from playing the full note values in the bc part. But Niedt is an ‘Unikum’ and there are many things about him that do not qualify him to be an important authority in regard to performance practice. In only one respect was he slightly noteworthy: he was against having musicians learn or write music in tablature. The MGG reports that from the limited information that we have about him, the fact is “daß die Musik nicht oder nur zeitweise sein Hauptberuf war” [“that music never was, or only temporarily was his main occupation.”] The MGG further reports that “Als Komponist ist Niedt, nach den wenigen Proben in seinen Schriften zu urteilen, über eine zum Teil recht trockene Mittelmäßigkeit nicht hinausgekommen, was sich auch schon aus Äußerungen entnehmen läßt wie z.B. daß der ganze Kontrapunkt doch nur eine »Bärenheuterey« sei und daß er aus seinen Kantaten alle Fugen und Hallelujas verbannt habe, da sie doch nur Ekel und Verdruß erweckten.“ [„As a composer Niedt, judging from some selections from his writings, never rose above mediocrity, a fact that can easily be understood from his own statements such as when he says that the whole matter of counterpoint is simply a ‘stupid’ occupation for dull, lazy people, and another statement where he admits that he had banned (removed) all fugues and hallelujahs from his cantatas, because the only effect which they had was one of repulsion and annoyance.”] And such a person as Niedt is brought into the company of Mattheson and Bach in order to prove that shortened accompaniment in secco recitatives in Bach’s time was the rule and not simply an exception!!!

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote::
< (...) Brad, I don't expect you to change your opinion on this matter overnight, if it even occurs that you will ever change it at all. People have a right to hold on dearly to their opinions for as long as they wish. It is interesting for me to observe how rigidly you hold to the 'evidence' that Dreyfus has presented. This is the same type of "Buchstabentreu" that you accuse me of having in regard to Bach's Urtext, but now applied by you to musicological theories. (...) >
Tom, it is perplexing to me (not just "interesting," but perplexing) that you would even suggest that I have such a rigidity.

If you'd been paying even half attention to my posting from yesterday
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/9069
and the one from 1/31
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/8673
you would KNOW that I do not have such a rigidity, re musicological findings and performance.

You've put up Laurence Dreyfus as a "straw man" to be knocked down while ignoring (whether deliberately or not) his thorough presentation of the sources...and then you brought up Heinichen as if you discovered him yourself (even though Dreyfus explicates Heinichen's document directly)...and then you complained that Dreyfus has ignored Heinichen. Huh??

And now you're putting me up as another straw man: accusing me of being duped by Dreyfus...while just yesterday (in the posting cited above) I directly said that I'm convinced by musical reasons ahead of anything Dreyfus said, and Dreyfus' argument then further convinces me as far as musicology can.

Dreyfus and I are your straw men only because your method of operation is (apparently) to overlook or ignore anything that doesn't suit you, and pretend it doesn't exist. Then, when you do so, that supposedly gives you carte blanche to complain about your opponent's supposed lack of thoroughness. It's astounding.

And it's professionally insulting. I spent five years of my life, full-time, earning a doctorate in harpsichord (with two masters' degrees in musicology and other early keyboard instruments along the way); and my professor and committee chair, Edward Parmentier, is one of the most highly-respected scholarly performers in the world. Indeed, he himself was a student of both Arthur Mendel and Gustav Leonhardt, among others. We take the sources seriously in making musical decisions. And here, in effect, you are insulting Parmentier and the whole doctoral program when you insinuate that they didn't teach me the right things.

But even more, you are insulting Dreyfus and the several dozen people who professionally peer-reviewed his book before its publication. (One of those people cited in Dreyfus' acknowledgments is even a list member here: Teri Noel Towe.) Dreyfus spent an entire academic year plus an additional summer in Berlin and Leipzig studying all the sources directly; he is a serious scholar and he "knows his stuff"...he is also one of the world's outstanding players of viola da gamba, and knows the music from the perspective of a performer.

I really don't know what more to say here, except to sit here staring in wonderment at your approach to this material, and marveling at your temerity (armed primarily with MGG, NBA, and a few other sources you've gathered) in presuming to overrule and belittle Dreyfus, who really has done the research. I'm sure you mean well, but I believe the conclusions you draw, and the methods that get you there, are...um...suspect.

And you still haven't answered my question from yesterday: if you object to secco recitatives, is your objection primarily a musical one, an historical one, or just an honestly confusing inability to get past the cognitive dissonance of seeing one thing on a page while hearing something remarkably different?

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 23, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Tom, fair enough, I accept your overlooking of Dreyfus' citation of Heinichen (yesterday) as an honest mistake.

But now you've found a new way to astound me. Now you're attempting to discredit Niedt with a character assassination. But you seem not to know: Bach taught his own pupils thorough-bass USING A TEXTBOOK WRITTEN BY NIEDT. (I refer you to page 25 in The Bach Reader, by David and Mendel....) Yes, "such a person as Niedt is brought into the company of Mattheson and Bach" by Johann Sebastian Bach himself. Or, are you going to tell us next that David and Mendel were wrong?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 23, 2003):
Brad asked:
>>And you still haven't answered my question from yesterday: if you object to_secco recitatives, is your objection primarily a musical one, an historical one, or just an honestly confusing inability to get past the cognitive dissonance of seeing one thing on a page while hearing something remarkably different?<<
Brad, how would you answer your own 'loaded' question?

I do not object to secco recitatives. I find many of Bach's serecitatives to be true works of art that should be approached in a dignified, non-operatic manner. The continuity within the recitative should not be chopped up unless there is a very good reason for it. The bc is the base upon which the whole recitative rests. There is a tendency within the HIP mvt. to lose sight of the longer, unifying lines that hold these recitatives together.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 24, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] Tom, I already answered my 'loaded' question (placing my cards upon the table) in the same message where I asked it, yesterday:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachRecordings/message/9069

=====

Now in your new pronouncement:
"There is a tendency within the HIP mvt. to lose sight of the longer, unifying lines that hold these recitatives together."

Evidence, please? What, specifically, makes you think that the use of rests between the continuo notes (i.e. relatively light, gentle, disconnected strokes, as opposed to a droning, wall-to-wall series of sustained chords) does any damage to the music's unity?

In my own opinion, the "longer, unifying lines that hold these recitatives together" are the singer's words and notes telling the story; and the method of accompaniment would not have much bearing on this one way or the other. Either the singer can declaim the line convincingly, or (s)he can't. If anybody "loses sight of the long lines" it is due to bad musicianship (of singer and/or continuo players and/or conductor), not the fault of any particular performance movement. It seems to me you're conveniently blaming "the HIP mvt." as a nebulous boogey-man, when you should instead be complaining about singers who don't know how to sing recitative (whether "HIP" or not).

If anything, I'd suggest, everything else being equal, the secco approach gets out of the singer's way better, giving him/her more opportunity to declaim the line nobly and expressively, with better continuity, not having to fight his/her way through a sustained sound poured over everything like a heavy-cream gravy. If we must generalize: sustained notes in the continuo make the music sound too weighed-down and cautious, like it's struggling through a thick fog instead of moving forward confidently through fresh clean crisp air.

It has hardly anything to do with how strong the singer's voice is, volume-wise (I recall your insinuation that the detached approach offers a crutch to weak "half-voiced" HIP singers who otherwise couldn't cut through the texture); rather, it most clearly offers the singer the correct central responsibility of putting the recitative across convincingly, with the unity of presenting the text as directly and meaningfully as possible.

But then again, what do I know? I merely play this stuff professionally, with only a couple dozen years of experience as a church organist and orchestral/chamber continuo player (both on harpsichord and organ; including performances of both the SMP and SJP with excellent tenors singing the Evangelists; and dozens of other cantatas and oratorios and some Baroque operas; and some experience conducting Baroque vocal and instrumental works from the keyboard), and being only a stupid musician who trusts his ears and experience (pretty much the way Bach did), I'm probably wrong.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 24, 2003):
Brad stated:
>>But now you've found a new way to astound me. Now you're attempting to discredit Niedt with a character assassination. But you seem not to know: Bach taught his own pupils thorough-bass USING A TEXTBOOK WRITTEN BY NIEDT. (I refer you to page 25 in _The Bach Reader_, by David and Mendel....) Yes, "such a person as Niedt is brought into the company of Mattheson and Bach" by Johann Sebastian Bach himself. Or, are you going to tell us next that David and Mendel were wrong?<<

Brad, although I do not possess "The Bach Reader" by David and Mendel, I have found the document that you are referring to as item 433 in the "Bach-Dokumente."

Here are some facts, which I hope are also correctly reported in your book:

1) Absolutely nothing of this manuscript consisting of a title page and 21 handwritten pages is in Bach's handwriting.

2) The title page ascribes the contents to be by Bach [perhaps the two unknown individuals whose handwriting appears in this document hoped to increase the importance of the document by making it appear this way.]

3) This document was never published. Only this obscure copy exists. [Very likely this would not be in existence today, if it were not for Bach's authorship or personal direction indicated on the title page. Can you imagine some older students in Leipzig in the 1830's approaching some rich freshman greenhorns with an offer: "Hey, buddy. We've got some valuable information here that you will get nowhere else. It'll only cost you ....]

4) There is no proof that Bach ever possessed a copy of Niedt's book.

5) A comparison of Niedt's book with the passages written out here indicates that there are numerous substantial changes in the text. There is no way to confirm that the parts not traceable to Niedt were really by Bach. [Certainly some characteristic of the great master would show up in the additional passages.]

6) The musical examples given are fraught with mistakes. [How would Bach even allow such a manuscript to represent his name and his ideas?]

7) Spitta originally thought he had detected the handwriting of Johann Peter Kellner on the title page. Spitta later revised this when he made the connection of some of the passages coming from the Niedt book.

8) Other than the fact that some sections were copied from Niedt's book, the origin and provenance of this manuscript remain a complete mystery.

All of these points deal a serious blow to the credibility of this document.

In a nutshell, to establish a connection between Niedt and Bach upon this single spurious document is an action not representative of a musicological scholarship that wishes itself to be taken seriously.

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 24, 2003):
Brad, you asked:
>>Evidence, please? What, specifically, makes you think that the use of rests between the continuo notes (i.e. relatively light, gentle, disconnected strokes, as opposed to a droning, wall-to-wall series of sustained chords) does any damage to the music's unity?<<
You have a way of exaggerating the extremes, when you state that the abrupt cessation of the long continuo notes can be considered ‘relatively light, gentle, disconnected strokes.’ There is an immediate vacuum which ensues the moment the bc note is abruptly terminated. The occasional entrances, when the bass note remains the same but the chords change, put far too much emphasis on these chord changes (too much attention is directed toward the chord changes.) There is probably some physical law of human perception regarding the difference between having many rests between notes and a legato-style of playing that maintains a supporting stream of sound. The former will call extra attention to itself, no matter how ‘light’ and ‘gentle’ these strokes may be, while the latter provides the necessary unobtrusive support that a singer needs during the recitative. This steady and solid reference point is always present for the vocal artist and does not detract in any way from the vocal delivery unless the bc becomes too loud or distracting in a number of different ways, shortened secco accompaniment being one of them.

>> In my own opinion, the "longer, unifying lines that hold these recitatives together" are the singer's words and notes telling the story; and the method of accompaniment would not have much bearing on this one way or the other.<<
Even the best vocalists will have to breathe judiciously at certain points in a long line that is being delivered. To have the bc absolutely silent at such points would only serve to break up the line unnecessarily creating dead hiatuses where the continuo should at least be holding the long note in the bc. In this case, playing the bc as Bach notated it, would overcome sucmomentary breaks in the vocalist’s musical line and allow the necessary flexibility to the voice to choose the moments when breathing will occur, even on the fly.

>> If anything, I'd suggest, everything else being equal, the secco approach gets out of the singer's way better, giving him/her more opportunity to declaim the line nobly and expressively, with better continuity, not having to fight his/her way through a sustained sound poured over everything like a heavy-cream gravy. If we must generalize: sustained notes in the continuo make the music sound too weighed-down and cautious, like it's struggling through a thick fog instead of moving forward confidently through fresh clean crisp air.<<
You get an A+ for creative writing, but if this is what you have heard in recordings or, heaven forbid, in your own performances, then it is very clear that the balance between the voice and the continuo group is way off center and demands to be adjusted. Even some of the noted conductors of Bach’s sacred music are, unfortunately, prone toward allowing the bc to become much too heavy. I have often reported on this phenomenon on the BCML. But the declamation and interpretation of a secco recitative by noted singer does not need the shortened secco recitative accompaniment in order to sing nobly and expressively; on the contrary, the entire performance of the recitative is then enhanced in nobility when the bc group does not continue doing a silly disappearing act throughout the recitative when it is not called for in Bach's score.

>> It has hardly anything to do with how strong the singer's voice is, volume-wise (I recall your insinuation that the detached approach offers a crutch to weak "half-voiced" HIP singers who otherwise couldn't cut through the texture); rather, it most clearly offers the singer the correct central responsibility of putting the recitative across convincingly, with the unity of presenting the text as directly and meaningfully as possible.<<
It is not an ‘insinuation’ but simply a judgment that follows from many, many hours of listening to the recordings of the Bach cantatas that are available. What you are suggesting will allow the less aptly and technically endowed voices to have their moment of glory because the softest HIP bc accompaniment would tend to drown them out. This substantiates what I have been stating all along, but now the HIP mvt. wishes to cater to these ‘demi’-voices by reducing what you might call ‘interference’ by an already much lighter instrumental texture created by period instruments. This is absolutely the wrong way to go. These voices must be uplifted by giving them an appropriate support which does not overwhelm such a demi-voice. Have you ever heard Esswood singing ‘flat’ in a secco recitative performed by Harnoncourt in his authoritative HIP bc performance style? I have. [Don’t ask me now to point to a specific recitative in the Teldec series, because I am not going to spend time looking this up. You’ll simply have to take my word for this.] Perhaps, there is, of course, no guarantee that this would happen, but Esswood might not have lost his pitch, had the bc group given him the necessary support in this regard.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (February 24, 2003):
I hope I don't get squished in this "clash of the titans", but I know better than to take it personally

Brad said:
< It has hardly anything to do with how strong the singer's voice is, volume-wise (I recall your insinuation that the detached approach offers a crutch to weak "half-voiced" HIP singers who otherwise couldn't cut through the texture); rather, it most clearly offers the singer the correct central responsibility of putting the recitative across convincingly, with the unity of presenting the text as directly and meaningfully as possible. >
So are you saying that in arias (which usually have richer accompaniment than recits), the singer is not effectively given the central responsibility of the movement? The singer is not effectively given the central emphasis? I think the ability of the singer has a lot to do with it-what kind of singer, or performer in general is not sensitive to the level of presence he/she is required? What kind of singer can't command presence while there are instrumental things going on behind him/her that support him/her? A singer without the skill to do so (like me...). To make it specific, a singer must be able to command the leading role in a recitative regardless of what else is going on. Anyone else is, as I humbly admit to being, and as Tom calls, a "demi-singer".

You also said:
< including performances of both the SMP and SJP with excellent tenors singing the Evangelists; >
if you are still talking about the same issue (secco recit accomp): I think we've established that the accomp when the evangelist is speaking in SMP is an exception, possibly as a contrast to the "halo" surrounding Jesus' words.

However, it is not an exception to a similar rule, a rule that is the main reason why I'm in Tom's camp on this issue: Bach specifically wrote out the bass notes as short clips for SMP evangelist recits (possibly for SJP too-I don't have the score), and he wrote out long bass notes for secco recits elsewhere. Here's my biggie argument: are you ready?...

Why the heck would Bach bother to write out longer notes if he intended them to be played for much shorter? It simply does not make sense at all! I mean, sure-the organ can get a bit annoying sometimes if held for a long time, but at least the bassoons, gambas, cellos, etc. could hold it for the written length! (Matt: breathe). All emphasis aside: Bach wrote the notes for a certain length, so they should be played this certain length (cue Yul Bryner as Pharoah).

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 24, 2003):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Matthew, I'm not sure you'll like the answer (and Tom probably won't either, because it will be a difficult one for him to wriggle out of), but it is a very practical one. Here goes:

- Bach and his copyists were in a hurry, and they (naturally) had to write out all the parts and all the scores by hand, since there were no other alternatives. If more copies were needed, one wrote them out by hand [, as rapidly as possible to get through the volume of work]. Try this exercise: with pen and ink (the kind of pen that has to be dipped), write out a whole page of music from one of the Bach cantatas: a bass-line part to be given to a continuo player, for a recitative. Time yourself...write it out in whole notes. Then go back and do the same page again, timing yourself again, but this time write it out with quarter notes and rests.

- Give these two parts to a player who is decent at sight-reading. Ask him or her which one is easier to read: the one with the uncluttered look of "whole notes" (showing very obviously where the note is supposed to change pitch) or the one that is full of rests, where the notes sometimes change in the middle of a measure or wherever.

- It is (I'm sure you will find) MUCH easier both for the copyist and for the player to write and read the version that looks like "whole notes." And since there was a performance-practice convention at the time (even though Tom doesn't believe there was), where the good players KNEW that these two versions were supposed to sound similar anyway, there's hardly any reason to go to the trouble of writing out all the rests...it just takes extra time and makes it more likely that someone will screw up (either in the copying or the playing). The biggest reason to write out the rests-version would be if one expects the part to be given to inexperienced people who wouldn't know the notational convention.

It is far, FAR more practical to give a good musician a page of simple-looking whole notes with the spoken instructions "Whenever the note changes, play it briefly and then get off it," than to give him/her a page full of quarter notes and rests that s/he has to count carefully.

Indeed, since "get off the note soon after playing it" was the NORMAL way of playing in recitatives (not even needing the spoken instructions if you have players of experience), they had to give speciwritten instructions in the score (such as the word "accompagnato") when they wanted the player to sustain the notes for full value in the other type of recitative! (The other type you mentioned, such as those in the SMP where Jesus is accompanied by a "halo" of string chords.)

It is a 20TH CENTURY EXPECTATION (not an 18th century expectation) that notes on the page (any page of music, by anybody) should be held for the full value as they look. When we perform music from the past, it is important to find out what the notation meant TO THEM at that time, rather than simply assuming it means what it looks like to us.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 24, 2003):
This weekend I attended a stage play. The actors breathed during their lines, wherever they needed to, but it did not give me ANY sense that they were losing the direction of the line. They didn't need any background music sustaining our interest. I didn't hear any "dead hiatuses."

When you listen to the news on the radio, listen closely: do they have background chords sustained to cover the "dead air" spots between the speaker's words, or during the breaths? No. The meaning of the story carries it, with the speaker's natural inflections putting across the spoken text.

So it is with secco recitative. The music is semi-sung, semi-spoken, but the method of communication is the same as stage lines or the radio news. The speaker (or singer) puts it across; and if there is too much background sound, it gets in the way rather than helping the delivery.

But I find it impossible to argue with someone who does not accept practical considerations such as these. To me, this topic is so obvious that it hardly needs such justification! It is as obvious as the fact that my infant daughter now wants my attention, and I have other work to do as well, so I am now "outta here" for the rest of the day, and maybe more. I have more important things to do than state and restate and re-restate the painfully obvious.

Johan van Veen wrote (February 24, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] This will not convince him. From what I remember before I left the group some time ago he fundamentally rejects the view that baroque singing is a form of speech. In every posting he fulminated against the principle of 'Musik als Klangrede'. The continuous criticism of baroque singing as singing with 'half-voice' falls into the same category.

Santu de Silva wrote (February 24, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< So, basically, you just don't believe Dreyfus, one of the top experts in this field. Yeah, that explains some things....
Well, in the Deller recording of cantatas 170 and 54 (1954, Vanguard, with Leonhardt directing from the organ, and Harnoncourt also playing), all the recitatives are played secco except the second one in 170, which has sustained strings.
Anybody have data on the recordings of Italian Baroque opera, oratorio, and cantatas (by anybody...including Händel) prior to 1954, on the way they handle recitativo secco in there? Or, for that matter, any other German-speaking composer of the 17th or early 18th century? >
One instance (in fact the first instance in which the style was identified to me) is in Messiah: "The voice of Him that cryeth in the Wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord!" People surely must have Messiah recordings from way back?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 25, 2003):
Brad brought up the following ‘argument’:
>>- Bach and his copyists were in a hurry, and they (naturally) had to write out all the parts and all the scores by hand, since there were no other alternatives. If more copies were needed, one wrote them out by hand [, as rapidly as possible to get through the volume of work]. Try this exercise: with pen and ink (the kind of pen that has to be dipped), write out a whole page of music from one of the Bach cantatas: a bass-line part to be given to a continuo player, for a recitative. Time yourself...write it out in whole notes. Then go back and do the same page again, timing yourself again, but this time write it out with quarter notes and rests.

- Give these two parts to a player who is decent at sight-reading. Ask him or her which one is easier to read: the one with the uncluttered look of "whole notes" (showing very obviously where the note is supposed to change pitch) or the one that is full of rests, where the notes sometimes change in the middle of a measure or wherever.

- It is (I'm sure you will find) MUCH easier both for the copyist and for the player to write and read the version that looks like "whole notes." And since there was a performance-practice convention at the time (even though Tom doesn't believe there was), where the good players KNEW that these two versions were supposed to sound similar anyway, there's hardly any reason to go to the trouble of writing out all the rests...it just takes extra time and makes it more likely that someone will screw up (either in the copying or the playing). The biggest reason to write out the rests-version would be if one expects the part to be given to inexperienced people who wouldn't know the notational convention.

It is far, FAR more practical to give a good musician a page of simple-looking whole notes with the spoken instructions "Whenever the note changes, play it briefly and then get off it," than to give him/her a page full of quarter notes and rests that s/he has to count carefully. <<
In short, the copyists saved time by avoiding writing out all the rests and simply using notes with full values that would be understood to have the rests between or in place of the full note values.

Check this out, Brad, and see how this stands up:

BWV 39 mvt. 1 has a bc part just like the otherwise very short recitatives where you want the copyists to save time. Bach has written out a pattern for the bc that consists of an 8th note followed by an 8th -note rest. This pattern is repeated for 65 ms. in this mvt. This means that Bach unnecessarily burdened his copyists with writing out these rests for 65 ms.with 3 rests per ms., giving a total of 195 repetitions of the pattern, and since Bach usually had 3 bc parts copied out, this means that in a single mvt. these rests proliferated to a total of 585! Surely these bc players, who according to your improperly documented theory of shortened accompaniment in the secco recitatives and according to your attitude of ‘Selbstverständlichkeit’ (everything is ‘self-understood’ except for an occasional individual who is ‘stupid enough’ to question the notion of the existence of an esoteric tradition among bc players of Bach’s time), should be able to look at the quarter notes in their parts and play them short (with rests between them) because this is the unwritten performance tradition that they are accustomed to use according to the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory.

Better yet, take the famous cantata that everyone knows, BWV 140, in the glorious opening mvt. Here you will find in the bc a similar notation to that of BWV 39, only here it is repeated for 282 ms. Take this times 3 (the number of rests in each ms.) and you get 282 8th-note rests. For the 3 continuo parts that Bach usually had prepared for a given cantata, the copyists would have write out laboriously the rests in this mvt. alone which would amount to a total of 846 completely unnecessary (according to you) rests. Bach would have to have been stupid to waste all this time with his copyists if the nonsensical HIP tradition that you adhere to were really present for Bach to make use of. Bach economized wherever he could, but not very selectively, as you suggest, with only the secco recitatives which are relatively short when compared to other mvts. in the cantata where even greater savings of time could have been achieved! This doesn't make sense.

Brad, you stated:
>> So it is with secco recitative. The music is semi-sung, semi-spoken, but the method of communication is the same as stage lines or the radio news.<<
This is a very common notion that has been intensified in the last few decades as is quite evident in HIP recordings: it is “Muals Klangrede” that Johan van Veen mentions, but which is misunderstood to mean that all playing and singing should emulate ordinary, everyday speech. ‘Semi-singing’ Bach’s recitatives (and arias) is what we hear too much of in most of the recent HIP recordings.

If the performance practice experts were to read Johann Friedrich Agricola’s “Anleitung zur Singkunst” ,published in 1757 (a translation of and commentary on Pier Francesco Tosi’s book on singing, published in 1723), they would discover the following:

1) Church recitatives are clearly distinguished from other types such as opera (called ‘theatrical’ in this book) and chamber music recitatives.

2) While the church recitatives allow the singer quite a bit of latitude in taking liberties with the tempo (mainly in secco, but not so much in the accompagnato/arioso sections), it is a very different matter when it comes to applying expression to the words and music. This is not a ‘method of communication as on the stage or on radio.’ On the contrary, there must be present, as Tosi states, “eine lange Aushaltung…und eine beständig unterhaltene edle Ernsthaftigkeit“ [„sustaining and holding out notes longer than usual…and maintaining a continual genuine feeling of noble earnestness/seriousness.] He summarizes the main quality desirable in a church recitative (secco or otherwise): “Die Kunst mit welcher es auszudrücken ist, lernet man nicht anders, als aus einer überzeugenden Empfindung der Wahrheit : daß man zu GOtt redet“ [„There is only one way to express a recitative in an artistically proper manner. This can only be achieved with a convincing feeling of truth : as if one were talking to God.”]

3) A secco recitative in the opera setting is mainly concerned with the development of the plot while a church recitative is primarily of a lyric (serious) quality and in the passions it take on an epic one. [Epics are declaimed very differently compared to ‘stage lines’ or ‘radio news.’]

 

Continue on Part 4

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 22, 2011 ý09:08:16