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Recitatives in Bach’s Vocal Works

Part 7

 

 

Continue from Part 6

Niedt, Voigt, organ continuo, and Schei(b)e

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 30, 2003):
[To Thomas Braatz] The article about Niedt in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001 edition) includes the latest scholarship (Schulze's, et al) about the importance of his work, and the firmly established Niedt/Bach connection; and it also mentions that all of Niedt's own compositions are lost. It would seem that the MGG assertion (quoted here so gleefully and often by Mr Braatz) about Niedt being a terrible composer is not only mere hearsay and wishful thinking, but irrelevant. Niedt was a notary public and had studied law, in addition to his musical interests; obviously he had some intelligence. And Niedt's writings were republished several times, promoted by the respectable Mattheson himself; it wasn't just some silly book of lies and errors, as Braatz would suggest, something that Bach must have scorned (since we believe our Bach was an intelligent hero). Schulze's article is available for anyone who cares about real scholarship here on this point, scholarship as opposed to wild hyperbolic conjecture on the Internet. And as I said here recently, I've had lessons myself from respectable teachers using Niedt as a resource, getting useful musical knowledge and experience from it; what does that make me, or my teachers?

As for Voigt, the one who wrote in 1742 that the organist must lift off the notes so everyone can hear the singer's words: there's a Bach connection that is close enough for me. Mizler's own copy of Voigt's book still survives; Laurence Dreyfus said he looked at it in Berlin (as anyone who's looked at Dreyfus' footnotes would know). And Mizler was the leader of the society of musical scientists, of which Bach was a successfully auditioned member.

Even without Voigt, Niedt, Heinichen, and others codifying this performance practice (the organist lifting off the notes), it's so "duh!" obvious for musical reasons (letting the text be heard clearly, and for balance with other instruments of the period), sensitive musicians do it anyway whether the treatises give 'permission' or not. I can vouch for this personally, from yesterday's rehearsals and performance: if the other organist and I had not lifted off our notes, both hands, articulating every note and chord along with the bass (not just in recitatives, but also in arias), there would have been NO way to hear the Baroque bassoon. This was most obvious in an aria accompanied by oboe d'amore, bassoon, and myself on organ -- our continuo cellist listened to us for balance, since she wasn't playing in that movement, and counseled me this was the only way to hear the bassoon and have a good blend. (And yes, "duh," we were using a very quiet Gedackt stop on an organ that was explicitly designed for continuo use with period instruments; and the bassoon player was one of the best musicians in the room, a seasonsed professional, not a hack.)

And, in other movements (this was an all-Bach concert), sustained sounds on the organ would have drowned out the inner parts, like pouring a thick gravy over a meal. The general performance style described in 1950 by Arthur Mendel is a wonderfully effective way to play organ continuo, whether it's in recitatives or arias or choruses -- not because Mendel, as a respected scholar, said so, but because it makes the music clear. The musical evidence, in practice, is so strong that it really doesn't matter very much what treatises say. (That's another of Mendel's observations, before he goes on to give us the treatises anyway: the inner parts of Bach's textures get wiped out if an organist plays sustained harmonies.) Last night with that continuo organ, single 8-foot Gedackt, I accompanied a chorus of 18 healthy adults in a Bach motet, using the organ very lightly to help them stay on pitch. And it was plenty to play one note at a time (the bass) for most of the piece, for balance with the choir, in a large church that seated at least 400. Anything thicker than that would have been right out. In the other pieces, we had a period-instrument orchestra of eight strings, six winds, and continuo variously from that organ and an Italian harpsichord (which also would have been too loud for everyone if we hadn't had its lid all the way down...that point became very obvious in rehearsal).

As for the rhetorical question, what would Bach do if he had his own Mr Braatz to contend with, riding a high horse past his house? I know very well what horses leave on the road, what it looks and smells like; my neighbors drive their horses past my house every Sunday (all of them, going to the church less than a mile from my house: more than a hundred horse-drawn buggies there every week), and the road has plenty of evidence. I'm sure Bach thought of this sort of thing every time he saw the name Scheibe, the writer who famously criticized Bach's work; both because of the criticism itself, and because of the pun. What did Bach do about it? Well, he didn't bother to keep his Scheibe engaged in patient conversation; he had his Birnbaum. And he did what I should have done long ago already, which is to just let it be on the road, as it gets mashed down and loses its fragrance in a couple of hours anyway. Bach had more important things to do than scoop it up, as do I.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 30, 2003):
Brad Lehman stated: >>I can vouch for this personally, from yesterday's rehearsals and performance: if the other organist and I had not lifted off our notes, both hands, articulating every note and chord along with the bass (not just in recitatives, but also in arias), there would have been NO way to hear the Baroque bassoon.<<
Check out the recitatives of the Evangelist in the SJP (with the long-held notes in the bc) where Bach indicates again and again ‘senza Bassono grosso’ and when he really wants to cut back without destroying the bc foundation as in the “Erwäge” aria, Bach notes in the bc: ‘senza Violone, senza Bassono grosso’

You have Bach’s performance goals completely turned around backwards. The bassoon was there only to lend support for the larger ensemble sections, not recitatives and arias unless there was a special reason for them to be heard.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 30, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I wonder if you could look at the score of the 2nd movement (bass recitative) of BWV 58, given at the David Zale site, and give your thoughts on performing the continuo part on the organ (on the appropriate organ stop), as realised in this score?

My own thoughts are that this could sound quite wonderful, minus a bassoon which is probably surperfluous to the organ sound (and maybe even cello, although the cello may add a pleasing extra colour to the bass line of the organ, depending on acoustics etc), so the organ could be played more or less legato as written without overpowering
the vocalist. There are some wonderful suspensions and harmonies in this score.

Would this sound infinitely more musically interesting than Harnoncourt's realisation of this movement?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Cantata BWV 58 - Discussions

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 31, 2003):
[To Thmas Braatz]
- On Saturday, our Baroque bassoonist did not play in any of the recitatives. He played in the choruses, and (exceptionally) played the continuo line in the soprano solo movement of the F major mass: soprano, oboe d'amore, bassoon, and organ (me). That's the movement I was referring to: if I hadn't lifted off both my hands along with his articulation of the bass line, all the way through, it would have been mud. We both varied the articulation of that bass line according to its musical character...sometimes quite short, sometimes more sustained...and always I made sure to get the right-hand harmonies out of the way whenever we played short.

- He was using the refined (French) type of bassoon, the one Bach referred to as Basson as opposed toFagott. The instrument mentioned in the St John Passion is yet a third type of instrument, Bassono grosso, playing at a different pitch. All of these variations (and more) are described clearly in Dreyfus' chapter about the bassoon. [Incidentally, last week when we were talking about your fictitious boy soprano with the hemi-semi-demi-voice, the one where Bach would need to have a bassoon loud enough that it mattered to cut it back, I slipped a little test in there for you, pointing out that that was a necessary condition for your argument. But you let it pass without comment, or confirmation (as you also let most of those other necessary conditions slide by, perhaps not having any rebuttal for them?). All you would have needed to do on that particular point was to show that Bach expected a Fagott instead of a Bassono. Your failure to do so suggests to me that you haven't read Dreyfus' chapter...and also suggests that you'd rather just toss wild conjecture out there, an impossible set of conditions (all together), than figure out the facts....]

- Your sentence above, "Check out the recitatives of the Evangelist in the SJP (BWV 245) (with the long-held notes in the bc)..." begs the question. You have ALREADY DECIDED that those notes are "long-held" because they look that way TO YOU on the page. They're only performed that way by people who read the music the way you do, that is, those who are either ignorant of or who reject the convention of playing all the bass notes and harmonies short in plain recitative. (And plain recitative is, of course, that type which doesn't have sustained strings or other melodic instrumental interpolations...that is, bass instrument(s) and keyboard alone. It is quite different from accompagnato recitative, where strings or others are sustaining harmonies.) You can't cite such a leading question (looking only at the bass notes in the SJP, notated as white notes, rather than black notes punctuated by rests) as "proof" of anything!...you're simply extrapolating YOUR EXPECTATION that they'd be held, according to what you see, because you reject the convention of playing them short.

- Let's turn over to the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) for a moment. An "Urtext" score of that has been in print since 1856, the Bach-Gesellschaft. In that edition, all of the Evangelist's parts (the plain recitative) are shown with the accompanying bass notes written as short black notes followed by rests, as derived from Bach's latest thoughts on notating this particular sound, i.e. his parts. Anyone using this score for performance since 1856 (and I include myself among that number) knows the normal way to play plain recitative; it's obvious right there. Bach was clear about this, clarifying the notation of this sound in the SMP, as he knew this would be one of his legacy works, as opposed to workaday cantatas that might or might not ever be heard again after his death...Bach made sure that we'd get it right in the SMP. (Indeed, before the BG edition, Mendelssohn earlier than that (1841) prepared a performance there in the Thomaskirche. He reorchestrated parts of the work, including the evangelist's recitatives, where he added strings to them. I haven't seen that reorchestration personally, so I can't be sure if he notated those additions with rests or in white notes, but at least in the recent recording by Spering, the world premiere recording of that version, those strings are playing all the plain recitative sections as short notes.)

- That's how plain recitative is done, regardless of how it looks on the page to a modern viewer. The genre determines the execution of it, not the notation. That's common knowledge not only to performers of Bach, but also to those familiar with the Italianate opera and oratorios during Bach's lifetime. It was also common knowledge to the long string of 18th century commentators who documented it: Niedt, Voigt, Schröter, Türk, Klein, Prixner, Kollmann, Petri, ... all of whom described it as a normal way to play music of this genre. Sure, other methods were (and remain) possible, such as lifting off only the harmonies while continuing to hold the bass note; but again, in plain recitative, there aren't sustained harmonies whether or not the bass is sustained.

- The people who insist on sustaining chords during plain recitative are those who are short-sighted, either through deliberate choice or mere ignorance (ignorance of the convention, and of the SMP, and of works by composers other than Bach). It is quite reasonable to look only at the score of a Bach cantata in isolation, see white notes in the bass (with numerals indicating harmonies), and assume that those notes would indicate sustained harmonies on the organ. It's REASONABLE...but it comes from an expectation of later music, not Bach's, where note-values are written more explicitly. As I've mentioned here earlier, this switch in notation style happened around 1800: 50 years after Bach's death. (And one of the writers mentioned above, Türk, wrote in 1787 that it would be better if this music was notated with more rests in it, because some of the organists and bass-line players were already becoming confused about it.) Until then, the execution of note values had to be determined by context, genre, and commonly-known performance guidelines...it wasn't necessarily written explicitly into the score. (Indeed, Bach was a pioneer in this direction of notating values more carefully, e.g. in the SMP revisions, and took some flak for it...some musicians felt insulted when he spelled things out for them.) In most of the cantatas, Bach did not trouble to write out exact notations for the clueless (present, or 250 years later), but simply adhered to the conventional manners of putting music onto paper. He was there in case anybody was confused; and these works probably wouldn't be performed more than several times, anyway, the notation becoming "etched in stone" for the misinterpretation of people 200 years later. When he revised the SMP, on the other hand, he knew he should be more clear about it, and he did so.

- Dreyfus cites an article from 1810, in the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, where there was a dialogue between the characters "Altlieb" and "Neulieb." They examine a musical example from a secco recitative by Hasse (1699-1783) where the bass line is written in white notes, but the realization is in short values with rests.
(Neulieb) "Wrong, this manner of accompaniment is fundamentally wrong. These whole and half notes must be executed just as the composer prescribed them."
(Altlieb) "Perhaps a misunderstanding lies at the root of this. The Italian[ate] composers, such as Graun and particularly Hasse, made use of this notation as an abbreviation, as it were, to spare themselves and the copyists writing so many rests, and partly to provide the accompanists at the keyboard with an overview by omitting the many signs and by leaving the bass note in clear view. That they never meant these long notes to be sustained is proven even today by the orchestras of Berlin and Dresden, both led by Graun and Hasse for so many years, who still play every change of bass note short, no matter what its written length. Hiller in particular confirmed this: He had trained under Hasse and in so many oratorios and operas in which he led the Leipzig orchestra insisted on the simple short attack of the bass note. And in the cases where the basses were supposed to hold out their notes, why would Hasse especially have written tenuto over these parts?"
(Neulieb) "But now this method belongs to the worthless, old junk condemned to the attic. Our conductor, admittedly still a young man but full of artistic knowledge and experience, has heard the orchestras of Italy, Vienna, and Munich, and insists that we sustain the long notes."

- Dreyfus explicates that dialogue further: "The author, who may even have been the editor himself, Johann Friedrich Rochlitz, sides with Altlieb in defending the convention while dramatizing a contemporary dispute. Of particular interest is Altlieb's account of the convention's origins. No longer are the howling organ pipes to blame;rather, the 'white' notation better represented the voice-leading and simplified the work for composers and copyists. Despite Altlieb's old-fashioned taste with its eye toward north Germany, the author confirms that short accompaniment was still current in Berlin and Dresden as late as 1810. Just as significant is Neulieb's objection on the grounds that it violates the composer's intentions: modern composers--he seems to say--notate their works as they intend them to sound. Neulieb is therefore the first 'author' to state that the bass notes in secco recitatives should be played as written." (Dreyfus, p. 86-7)

- That is, in the period after Bach's death, the expectation of notational 'precision' in the lengths of notes has changed. As I noted above, it is REASONABLE for modern people such as Tom Braatz (and others here) to look at those white notes and automatically assume they mean sustained harmonies. But, it goes against the normal manner (by genre, and by convention) of playing those passages as known to Bach. The fault here seems to be in that modern expectation that Bach would have always written out exactly the lengths he wanted to hear. It's a wrong expectation. It's a reasonable one, due to modern people's habits of reading later music, but it's a wrong one.

- Arnold Schering, along with other later 20th century writers, has pointed out how the tradition of short notes had been lost, due to that changed expectation in the way people read notation. These writers are simply correcting the commonly-held error of holding the notes; and they have provided historical and musical evidence in that quest. Still, there are stalwart commentators (including our Mr Braatz here) who would rather hope and wish that Schering and everybody else are wrong, and would rather hear this music played in that uncorrected 19th century fashion, because it looks to them like sustained notes on the page, and therefore it "must" be.

- Wishful thinking does not make Schering and other modern writers wrong. Mr Braatz has over the past year (at least) had this personal vendetta to discover why 20th century musicians have gradually reinstated this earlier manner of performance, and has sought to blame it all on Schering and on everyone whom Schering has "duped."
But that process is simply blaming the messenger. Braatz has tried to discredit all these commentators, and to discredit the original source material (Niedt, et al) as well, in the hope that the whole edifice will collapse. But, I emphasize, this is blaming the
messengers. Mr Braatz may not fancy the sound of short chords, or he may not be able to reconcile the things he SEES in the score with the different sounds he hears in "historically informed" performances; or, he may consider that performers who play shortened notes are ALL simply bad musicians. Fair enough, he's entitled to his opinion. But, in perspective, his allegations that everybody is wrong are just a polemic, and one that ignores or belittles any evidence he does not wish to admit into the discussion. I don't think that Braatz is ignorant, but rather that he has deliberately chosen to take a stance here that is anti-scholarly. Such a position leads to interesting
results, and a lively discussion, which I think is valuable; but sometime he will have to stop blaming all the messengers who present truth that he doesn't fancy.

- There's nothing wrong with preferring to hear the music a different way, even if it is the result of 19th and early 20th century misconceptions about Bach's intentions (even though some clues, such as the 1856 BG edition of the SMP, were still available to those who value the way Bach expected plain recitatives to sound). To anyone who simply doesn't like the way short chords sound, fine. Long notes are another way of playing it, and can give decent musical results. Everybody is entitled to enjoy what sounds good to him/her, wherever the traditions came from, and even if they probably don't agree with what Bach himself would have expected to hear. People play Bach on accordions and harmonicas and synthesizers and marimbas and modern brass ensembles, and the results can be fine. I enjoy some of those myself, too.

- Meanwhile, most of us nowadays who perform Bach's music using period instruments (and some also on modern instruments) are genuinely interested in playing it the way Bach intended it, as far as can be determined, and as far as is practical; we believe that Bach had some good ideas, after all! It works very well to play short chords in plain recitative, both for musical and historical reasons; so we do. Anyone who doesn't like this, personally: fine. If you don't like it, if it doesn't suit your expectations (wherever those expectations came from), just "lie back and think of England" as the saying goes. If you don't like something, fair enough; but don't blame the messengers.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 31, 2003):
Brad Lehman stated: >>You have ALREADY DECIDED that those notes are "long-held" because they look that way TO YOU on the page. They're only performed that way by people who read the music the way you do, that is, those who are either ignorant of or who reject the convention of playing all the bass notes and harmonies short in plain recitative. (And plain recitative is, of course, that type which doesn't have sustained strings or other melodic instrumental interpolations...that is, bass instrument(s) and keyboard alone. It is quite different from accompagnato recitative, where strings or others are sustaining harmonies.) You can't cite such a leading question (looking only at the bass notes in the SJP, notated as white notes, rather than black notes punctuated by rests) as "proof" of anything!...you're simply extrapolating YOUR EXPECTATION that they'd be held, according to what you see, because you reject the convention of playing them short.<<
Brad, you give me too much credit in standing alone with my opinion and expectation in this matter. It appears that I am not alone in what I SEE and HEAR:

Alfred Dürr, whose name some readers will recognize as being among the most important Bach scholars of our generation, in his book on the SJP (BWV 245), first published in 1988 (3rd edition 1999) gives his opinion on this matter:

"Ich halte es daher persönlich für sinnvoller, die Rezitative (he is referring to the secco or plain 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.

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.

BL (with a long quote from - Dreyfus (pp. 86-7) cites an article from 1810, in the Leipzig “Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung,” where there was a dialogue between the characters "Altlieb" and "Neulieb."):

>>They examine a musical example from a secco recitative by Hasse (1699-1783) where the bass line is written in white notes, but the realization is in short values with rests….<<
1) This is a typical Schering method of analysis. Take a late source such as this one from 1810 (or even attempt to refer to Mendelssohn’s performance parts of the SMP) and let this tell you what the ‘esoteric’ performance practices were almost a century earlier, just as if no changes in this practice could have taken place in the meantime.

2) The term ‘secco’ did not even exist in Bach’s time, so what are they really talking about here?

3) There is no differentiation made between operatic and church recitatives. Simply lump them together as if they were the same. Dreyfus, Brad, and all the others that want to believe in the Schering/Mendel/Dreyfus theory of shortened recitative accompaniment, welcome opportunities such as this for what they call ‘explication’ of the sources. The supporters of this theory, whenever it suits them, conveniently overlook Agricola’s statement (given here earlier) which delineates the major differences between these two types of recitatives and music.

BL: >>It works very well to play short chords in plain recitative, both for musical and historical reasons; so we do.<<
It also works very well to play the long bass notes as written by Bach, both for musical and historical reasons – the evidence is on some of the very good recordings of the pre-Leonhardt/Harnoncourt period and even after that time.

BL: >>(Indeed, Bach was a pioneer in this direction of notating values more carefully, e.g. in the SMP revisions, and took some flak for it...some musicians felt insulted when he spelled things out for them.) In most of the cantatas, Bach did not trouble to write out exact notations for the clueless (present, or 250 years later), but simply adhered to the conventional manners of putting music onto paper. He was there in case anybody was confused; and these works probably wouldn't be performed more than several times, anyway, the notation becoming "etched in stone" for the misinterpretation of people 200 years later. When he revised the SMP, on the other hand, he knew he should be more clear about it, and he did so.<<
Brad’s wording here is misleading: “Indeed, Bach was a pioneer in this direction of notating values more carefully, e.g. in the SMP revisions, and took some flak for it...some musicians felt insulted when he spelled things out for them.” He seems to imply that Bach was criticized for the single SMP continuo part in Bach’s hand that determined only his specific intentions for the SMP in the revised version. Where is the evidence that ‘some musicians felt insulted when he (Bach) spelled things out for them’ for this particular performance of the SMP? Wishful thinking on Brad’s part?? (Please don't bring up Schei(b)e in this context!)

BL: >>(Indeed, before the BG edition, Mendelssohn earlier than that (1841) prepared a performance there in the Thomaskirche. He reorchestrated parts of the work, including the evangelist's recitatives, where he added strings to them. I haven't seen that reorchestration personally, so I can't be sure if he notated those additions with rests or in white notes, but at least in the recent recording by Spering, the world premiere recording of that version, those strings are playing all the plain recitative sections as short notes.)<<
Mendelssohn was working from a copy of a copy of the score that was given to him by his mother as a Christmas present in 1823. What he did with the reorchestration would have no bearing upon determining what the autograph score (which had long notes indicated) or the single autograph continuo part of the revised version (which Mendelssohn probably did not have access to) contained. Mendelssohns’s version is not proof of the authentic performance of Bach, just as Mozart’s Messiah did not give proof of Händel’s original intentions. Why bring this matter up at all in this context?

BL: >>When he revised the SMP, on the other hand, he knew he should be more clear about it, and he did so.<<
The reason for this change, however, is not the one that you so insistently wish to suggest (so that they would play the shortened bc accompaniment.) There were many more matters here concerning the double choir/orchestra setup, the position of the organs, the acoustics in the expanded St. Thomas Church, the ability of the Evangelist’s voice to carry, etc.,etc. Also, he still continued to use the SJP in later years with long notes in the Evangelist part (as indicated in the continuo parts) after the SMP revision had been completed. Why would he not feel the same about the legacy of this work which was certainly very close to his heart and which he performed after the SMP revision? He would have only had to copy out a single continuo part (the copyists would assist him in the duplication of this part.) Or would Bach, who never would allow anyone else interfere with his musical decisions if he could help it, succumb to those musicians who were ‘giving him flak’ for already demeaning their intelligence on the SMP continuo parts and simply give into their wishes in this matter? Not very likely!

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 31, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
(...)
BL: >>When he revised the SMP, on the other hand, he knew he should be more clear about it, and he did so.<<
The reason for this change, however, is not the one that you so insistently wish to suggest (so that they would play the shortened bc accompaniment.) There were many more matters here concerning the double choir/orchestra set up, the position of the organs, the acoustics in the expanded St. Thomas Church, the ability of the Evangelistâ?Ts voice to carry, etc.,etc. Also, he still continued to use the SJP in later years with long notes in the Evangelist part (as indicated in the continuo parts) after the SMP revision had been completed. Why would he not feel the same about the legacy of this work which was certainly very close to his heart and which he performed after the SMP revision? He would have only had to copy out a single continuo part (the copyists would assist him in the duplication of this part.) Or would Bach, who never would allow anyone else interfere with his musical decisions if he could help it, succumb to those musicians who were â?~giving him flakâ?T for already demeaning their intelligence on the SMP continuo parts and simply give into their wishes in this matter? Not very likely! >
Tom, are you now trying to tell us that everybody who's performed the St Matthew Passion from the Bach-Gesellschaft score since 1856 has been wrong...they/we should have had somebody holding all those bass notes under the Evangelist...because Bach wrote out that change of notation for only a special circumstance of performance on one occasion, a Unikum? I have that full score (BG, reprinted by Dover) right here on my desk, and it's clear that there are rests between all those continuo notes. Are you saying that somebody screwed up in the 1850s, misreading Bach's notational intentions from his latest copy of the part and sticking it back into the score, and we've all been wrong ever since?

That appears to be what you're saying here: that Bach asked for the shortened notes for only a single exceptional performance of the SMP, and that otherwise (here, and by extension in all his other vocal works, from all the phases of his career) he wanted somebody to hold the bass, and maybe also theharmony chords. I just want to be clear: is that what you're claiming?


Schei(b)e

Bradley Lehman
wrote (March 31, 2003):
Tom Braatz asked: <Would a Tom Braatz at the beginning of the 17th century, an amateur musician and writer who occasionally dabbled in describing compositional techniques, but who also detested and attacked just about everything that J. S. Bach represented in his church music have come to the attention of Bach? Yes, perhaps, if
not only for his kooky ideas!
(...)
If I, as this fictitious amateur, wrote a description of secco recitative accompaniment in church compositions, a description that disagreed with other opof the day (Heinichen), what are the chances that Bach, knowing full well where I came from, would side with my description of this practice, or even deign to take me seriously? >
Such a situation--a writer attacking Bach's music and style—did exist during Bach's lifetime, 1737 and following (not the beginning of the 17th century, which would have required a time machine <grin>....).

Johann Adolph Scheibe was the son of the organ-builder Johann Scheibe, whose instruments Bach assessed. This son had also been a pupil of Bach. In 1737 he published an anonymous article against Bach's music. Several writers (most notably Birnbaum, possibly in consultation with Bach himself as a ghost-writer) then defended Bach in published rebuttals, to which Scheibe again responded, and it dragged on looking like the type of arguments that are still seen on the Internet today (not much has changed in 266 years...). Scheibe himself of course had to have the last word, reprinting Birnbaum's defense many years later with 164 footnotes of his own devising, trying to save face on his own "kooky ideas"....

It's all pretty entertaining, plus it gives a window into the way Bach's style (part-writing, expressive harmony, vocal parts that seem almost instrumental, etc) was seen by his detractors and defenders.

I've prepared a scan of this debate, using the English translation from The Bach Reader. I've also included three pages of further commentary from Christoph Wolff, from Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (2000).
http://www.vaix.net/~bpl/scheibe/scheibe.htm


Long notes and conventions

Alex Riedlmayer
wrote (March 31, 2003):
< Brad Lehman wrote:
- Let's turn over to the St Matthew Passion for a moment. An "Urtext" score of that has been in print since 1856, the Bach-Gesellschaft. In that edition, all of the Evangelist's parts (the plain recitative) are shown with the accompanying bass notes written as short black notes followed by rests, as derived from Bach's latest thoughts on notating this particular sound, i.e. his parts. Anyone using this score for performance since 1856 (and I include myself among that number) knows the normal way to play plain recitative; it's obvious right there.
You are describing the "normal way" of playing these recitatives in the 19th century, not the 18th century.

< - That's how plain recitative is done, regardless of how it looks on the page to a modern viewer. The genre determines the execution of it, not the notation. That's common knowledge not only to performers of Bach, but also to those familiar with the Italianate opera and oratorios during Bach's lifetime. >
Genre, being "common knowledge", is not inherent in the music.

< Sure, other methods were (and remain) possible, such as lifting off only the harmonies while continuing to hold the bass note; but again, in plain recitative, there aren't sustained harmonies whether or not the bass is sustained. >
The matter of contention seems to be the abridging of the bass note, not of the chords. I recall that Dreyfus conflated these practises as "shortened" accompaniment, and waved away the distinction between treatises that called for both and those that called for one but not the other with words to the extent that "all this proves that some form of shortened accompaniment is needed".

< - The people who insist on sustaining chords during plain recitative are those who are short-sighted, either through deliberate choice or mere ignorance (ignorance of the convention, and of the SMP, and of works by composers other than Bach). >
This is just an ad hominem argument, and doesn't prove the rectitude of "the convention".

< In most of the cantatas, Bach did not trouble to write out exact notations for the clueless (present, or 250 years later), but simply adhered to the conventional manners of putting music onto paper. He was there in case anybody was confused; and these works probably wouldn't be performed more than several times, anyway, the notation becoming "etched in stone" for the misinterpretation of people 200 years later. When he revised the SMP, on the other hand, he knew he should be more clear about it, and he did so. >
What enables you to perceive what Bach was thinking in notating his music? Why do you presuppose his reliable assistance in performing matters (which I strongly doubt)?

< - That is, in the period after Bach's death, the expectation of notational 'precision' in the lengths of notes has changed. >
For how could it not have?

< As I noted above, it is REASONABLE for modern people such as Tom Braatz (and others here) to look at those white notes and automatically assume they mean sustained harmonies. >
Your words are redundant: all people today are modern.

< But, it goes against the normal manner (by genre, and by convention) of playing those passages as known to Bach. >
In other words, it goes against a long-standing convention perpetuated
by Harnoncourt and Dreyfus.

< The fault here seems to be in that modern expectation that Bach would have always written out exactly the lengths he wanted to hear. It's a wrong expectation. It's a reasonable one, due to modern people's habits of reading later music, but it's a wrong one. >
Unfortunately, it is neither wrong nor right; it is nonfactual.
It may even be a straw-man argument from the movement that supposes
all performance practice

< - Arnold Schering, along with other later 20th century writers, has pointed out how the tradition of short notes had been lost, due to that changed expectation in the way people read notation. >
This begs the question: was there such a tradition?

< These writers are simply correcting the commonly-held error of holding the notes; and they have provided historical and musical evidence in that quest. >
In such essays of performance prophylaxis, evidence is used not so much in quality but in quantity, so that evidence can be deemed 'overwhelmingly' in favor of the theory by fanatics, but much of it is irrelevant, and some of it actually weakens the argument.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 31, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote:
- Let's turn over to the St Matthew Passion for a moment. An "Urtext" score of that has been in print since 1856, the Bach-Gesellschaft. In that edition, all of the Evangelist's parts (the plain recitative) are shown with the accompanying bass notes written as short black notes followed by rests, as derived from Bach's latest thoughts on notating this particular sound, i.e. his parts. Anyone using this score for performance since 1856 (and I include myself among that number) knows the normal way to play plain recitative; it's obvious right there. >>
< Alex Riedlmayer wrote: You are describing the "normal way" of playing these recitatives in the 19th century, not the 18th century. >
So, Alex, you just didn't like this 1810 citation (below) which says the opposite of what you're claiming here? That the practice of playing them short was dying out, instead of coming into new fashion?

I know Tom's already jumped on Dreyfus' unfortunate use of the word 'secco' in passing, the way the 18th century guys jumped on Scheibe for the use of the word 'Musikant', or for that matter, the way I've jumped on Tom for his 'demi-voice' parlance.... That's why I've been careful to call this "plain recitative" rather than "secco recitative" myself for the past week or so. And it seems, to appease Tom, I really should be calling it "plain recitative in secular works" lest he smack us all over the head with Agricola again....

And, for what it's worth, CPE informs us that his father liked what he heard from Hasse and Graun: "In his last years he esteemed highly: Fux, Caldara, Händel, Kayser, Hasse, both Grauns, Telemann, Zelenka, Benda, and in general everything that was worthy of esteem in Berlin and Dresden. Except for the first four, he knew the rest personally." (Hamburg, 1/13/1775, answering Forkel's questions) [p 279 in the Bach Reader]

As noted earlier....

- Dreyfus cites an article from 1810, in the Leipzig _Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung_, where there was a dialogue between the characters "A" and "Neulieb." They examine a musical example from a secco recitative by Hasse (1699-1783) where the bass line is written in white notes, but the realization is in short values with
rests.
(Neulieb) "Wrong, this manner of accompaniment is fundamentally wrong. These whole and half notes must be executed just as the composer prescribed them."
(Altlieb) "Perhaps a misunderstanding lies at the root of this. The Italian[ate] composers, such as Graun and particularly Hasse, made use of this notation as an abbreviation, as it were, to spare themselves and the copyists writing so many rests, and partly to provide the accompanists at the keyboard with an overview by omitting the many signs and by leaving the bass note in clear view. That they never meant these long notes to be sustained is proven even today by the orchestras of Berlin and Dresden, both led by Graun and Hasse for so many years, who still play every change of bass note short, no matter what its written length. Hiller in particular confirmed this: He had trained under Hasse and in so many oratorios and operas in which he led the Leipzig orchestra insisted on the simple short attack of the bass note. And in the cases where the basses were supposed to hold out their notes, why would Hasse especially have written _tenuto_ over these parts?"
(Neulieb) "But now this method belongs to the worthless, old junk condemned to the attic. Our conductor, admittedly still a young man but full of artistic knowledge and experience, has heard the orchestras of Italy, Vienna, and Munich, and insists that we sustain the long notes."

- Dreyfus explicates that dialogue further: "The author, who may even have been the editor himself, Johann Friedrich Rochlitz, sides with Altlieb in defending the convention while dramatizing a contemporary dispute. Of particular interest is Altlieb's account of the convention's origins. No longer are the howling organ pipes to blame; rather, the 'white' notation better represented the voice-leading and simplified the work for composers and copyists. Despite Altlieb's old-fashioned taste with its eye toward north Germany, the author confirms that short accompaniment was still current in Berlin and Dresden as late as 1810. Just as significant is Neulieb's objection on the grounds that it violates the composer's intentions: modern composers--he seems to say--notate their works as they intend them to sound. Neulieb is therefore the first 'author' to state that the bass notes in secco recitatives should be played as written." (Dreyfus, p. 86-7)

Johan van Veen wrote (March 31, 2003):
< Alex Riedlmayer wrote:
<< As I noted above, it is REASONABLE for modern people such as Tom Braatz (and others here) to look at those white notes and automatically assume they mean sustained harmonies. >>
< Your words are redundant: all people today are modern. >
Yes, that is right. But some people have a sense for history, and realise that the way people of the 21st century look at things is not necessarily the way people of the 18th century looked at them. One needs a good knowledge of the historical context to realise that people of the 18th and 21st century are different in some respects. Of course, some people are more different than others and some are better equipped to bridge the gap in time and mentality than others.

Treatises of the 18th century often refer to 'good taste'. But it is important to realise that what was considered 'good taste' in the 18th century is not necessarily what is 'good taste' to many people from the 21st century.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (March 31, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: So, Alex, you just didn't like this 1810 citation (below) which says the opposite of what you're claiming here? That the practice of playing them short was dying out, instead of coming into new fashion? >
My point was that the Bach-Gesellschaft score was published in the middle of the 19th century, and the "practice of playing them short" evident inside does not relate to the tradition that you say was "dying out" by 1810.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] Ahem. Alex, I still think you need to show us a good bit of mid-19th century evidence that this was 'the "normal way" of playing these [plain] recitatives in the 19th century' (18th century music, including Bach's, being played in this manner)....

Brad Lehman
("what's my shoe doing on THIS foot?!")

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I was referring in particular to the SMP...

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
[To Alex Riedlmayer] That's good: but again, on what evidence?

And, if indeed you have some evidence that the recitatives here were being played short in Leipzig in the 1850s, would that not also argue for a tradition coming from the past, an 18th century tradition that you assert didn't exist? That's what you said yesterday: that it was a 19th but not an 18th century tradition. ON WHAT EVIDENCE?!

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (Apriol 1, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: That's good: but again, on what evidence? >
The Bach-Gesellschaft print you cited, which is not the product of an 18th century tradition.

< And, if indeed you have some evidence that the recitatives here were being played short in Leipzig in the 1850s, would that not also argue for a tradition coming from the past, an 18th century tradition that you assert didn't exist? >
I don't know about Leipzig, but the traditions, however similar, do not overlap. Also, Mendel badly misunderstood tradition.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 1, 2003):
< Alex Riedlmayer wrote: The Bach-Gesellschaft print you cited, which is not the product of an 18th century tradition. >
Circular argument. They printed this Bach-Gesellschaft score working from the score and parts available to them; it doesn't say ANYTHING (one way or another) about their own 19th century performing tradition. They were just trying to give the best "Urtext" they could do, from the sources, working with what they believed to be Bach's final notational intentions. (NOTATIONAL intentions, regardless of how it was actually played in 1850 or at any other time.)

Try again, with some performance practice evidence outside this score!

< I don't know about Leipzig, but the traditions, however similar, do not overlap. Also, Mendel badly misunderstood tradition. >
Assertion. Assertion. If you actually have some evidence of these two alleged traditions, you can show us exactly how they are similar/dissimilar, and exactly how they do not overlap. You haven't done this; please do. Meanwhile, you're just offering assertions.

And it just looks as if you're saying here (axiomatically) that Mendel was ignorant, and it doesn't prove anything. To quote your own words: "This is just an ad hominem argument...." Plenty of people don't understand tradition, but that observation doesn't change the facts about those traditions.

Still waiting for actual evidence here, holding you to the same standard you require of those who hold an opposing view. Since you claim to understand tradition much better than Mendel (which may indeed be true; I don't doubt you on that), please enlighten us with the explanation. We'll all learn something. Until then, your series of one-liners isn't convincing.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (April 2, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: They printed this Bach-Gesellschaft score working from the score and parts available to them; it doesn't say ANYTHING (one way or another) about their own 19th century performing tradition. >
The publication might have had some impact on the 19th century performing tradition. But the shortened bass notes in the publication were derived from written parts, and therefore not from any tradition. Even though the parts had been copied by people of the 18th century tradition, the parts outlived that tradition.

Thomas Gebhardt wrote (April 2, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: Ahem. Alex, I still think you need to show us a good bit of mid-19th century evidence that this was 'the "normal way" of playing these [plain] recitatives in the 19th century' (18th century music, including Bach's, being played in this manner).... >
As far as I remember (sournot at hand) Mendelssohn had the recitative accompaniment chords played by divisi cellos (in his 2nd performance). At least in the first performance of Bach's Matthäuspassion here in Cologne (arranged and conducted by Julius Rietz) about 1850 (or 1851 if I remember right...), they have been played in this manner. So 19th century practice is obviously far away from Bach's own.

Bradley Lehman wrotec (April 2, 2003):
< Alex Riedlmayer wrote: The publication might have had some impact on the 19th century performing tradition. But the shortened bass notes in the publication were derived from written parts, and therefore not from any tradition. Even though the parts had been copied by people of the 18th century tradition, the parts outlived that tradition. >
I agree; but that still isn't evidence in support of your assertions that I've been challenging you on. You asserted (among other things) that the 19th century performance-practice traditions (as demonstrably distinct from 18th century traditions...although you haven't demonstrated that) affected the way they notated the score in that BG edition, mid-1850s. That's a tantalizing hypothesis, and it would be really interesting to see it fleshed out. But now, it appears, you're backpedaling and saying the opposite instead of addressing that question.

[Somehow, this reminds me of an analogy from a chess game: sending the queen and knights out early as snipers, marauding around the board, and then yanking them back as soon as they run into trouble, as soon as it's realized there needs to be real development....]


The Scheibe/Birnbaum debate...; and Schröter

Bradley Lehman
wrote (April 5, 2003):
Nobody has any comments about that 18th century Scheibe/Birnbaum debate?
http://www.vaix.net/~bpl/scheibe/scheibe.htm

Myself, I thought it was a fascinating set of documents: and has some relevant things to say about Bach's own musical aesthetics in his (changing) culture. Especially so if Bach really did ghost-write or coach some of Birnbaum's contribution....

=====

And, the Christoph Gottlieb Schröter (1699-1782) who defended Bach in 1746 is the same guy who (26 years later) had some of the most prominent things to say about recitative accompaniment....

"There are three types of recitative. The mark of the first type is when a vocal line appears above the figured bass notes, nota bene, without the word "Accompagnement" or "col stromenti." Although the bass here has mostly whole and half notes, the organist must shorten all such boring notes together with their required harmonies into nearly eighth notes... In the second type of recitative the bass and the instruments have mostly quarter notes with rests set afterwards. Now and then there are also running sixteenths or thirty-seconds before or at the beginning of a new section. These are played metrically and the organist executes his part as in the first type. By the third type I mean those which are accompanied by violins and where the whole and half notes are sustained sweetly, giving rise to a pleasant humming. In this type of recitative the meter must also be followed exactly. This type must also be designated with the words "accompagnement" or "col violini." Otherwise, the organists and the other accompanying bass players, through no fault of their own, would shorten the notes as in the first type of recitative. I generally shorten every chord on the organ with both hands so that nothing disturbs the humming of the violins. However, I sustain the pedal notes, mainly when the number of accompanying basses is small."
[Translation from Dreyfus, p85; the German original is in the footnote. Mendel also cited part of this passage in his article.]

Schröter's career was in Leipzig (1717), Dresden (worked for Lotti), and Nordhausen (1732-82). According to Baker's, he also wrote an article claiming to have invented a working piano action before Cristofori did! (And in The New Grove Dictionary they give him credit for a 1739 prototype of a tangent piano, although he didn't publish anything about it until that 1763 article.) Interesting fella. The Baker's article lists his major compositions, his published essays, and characterizes him as writing "some other theoretical articles in an egotistically assertive vein."

One can imagine: 'Heck, I've been playing recitative for more than 50 years already, I know what I'm talking about; plus, y'know that piano that's becoming so popular? I helped invent that! And I was a Bach fan before you were even born, sonny. Back in Leipzig I knew his stuff five years before he himself even got there, it was already going around and he was only in his mid-thirties, what a hotshot, sure inspired ME to switch over from theology to music. Sure was a great time to be in the middle of things there.'

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 5, 2003):
p.s. on Schröter: Christoph Wolff mentions that Bach in 1749 commissioned Schröter to write another defense of him, and then said that the resulting essay was worded too mildly; also, the two men had already been in contact for over 30 years, that is, since the late 17teens. And they were in Mizler's society together. Seems like a pretty good guy for Bach to have as a friend and supporter.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 5, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I am impressed by our Professor Birnbaum's insights into Bach's music, especially his recognition that Bach was writing music in which each part in the contrapuntal structure is important, and that Bach's skill in doing this resulted (in his opinion, with which we mostly all agree nowadays) in music of more 'perfect' harmony, than that which other composers were able to achieve.

Of course, this lends a cerain 'intellectual' quality to Bach's music, eg, in the working out of fugal structures, which means his music can be appreciated on this (intellectual) level as well as on an emotional level. I suppose Scheibe represents the antipathy to such an intellectual approach to music, and probably was expressing the popular tendency of the time (at the end of the baroque) in favour of simpler musical forms. (We are often told Bach's music quickly slipped into obscurity after his death, until Mendelssohn revived it 80 years later, at the beginning of the romantic era.)

Schröter's account of three recitative types is interesting; notice he allows himself the flexibility, in the 3rd type (not secco), of "sustaining the pedal notes, mainly when the number of accompanying basses is small."

Getting away from recitatives (secco or otherwise) for a moment, a more significant, and for me, disturbing, shortening of notes occurs in HIP performances of the dotted rythym, or French overture style of music.

Do you have any information about the HIP conventions in these cases?

Needless to say, HIP for me is most successful when it 'flows naturally'. I was lucky enough to recently record the alto aria from BWV 42 ("When 2 or 3 are gathered in My name...."), performed by mezzo-soprano Catherine King with the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra, a performance I regard highly: her lovely voice blends wonderfully with the instruments (oboes have a signifcant role) and the long aria flows gracefully, and with great charm.

The same CD features the Agnus Dei from the B minor Mass (BWV 232), and "Buss und Reu" from the SMP, but here the effect, despite her lovely voice, is spoiled by the clipped, chaste continuo employed....near staccato, definitely not called for by the score.

As for the overtures to the Bach Orchestral Suites, I usually run a mile if I see the words "performed on period instruments", because it invariably means a bouncy, disjointed style (specifically in the slow sections of the slow-fast-slow structure), which always reminds me of a clown bouncing down the street on a spring.

Two futher examples of period performance I found disappointing recently:

"Behold the Lamb of God.." from the Messiah; the choir sang well, in a legato fashion, but the (already weak, in number, probably , and certainly in attack) period violins played much shortened notes - I thought thismade a disturbing contrast with the choir, which detracted from the majesty of this movement; and the well-known Suite in A minor for recorder and strings of Telemann (1st movement) - a favourite of mine in the late sixties, dignified music, here changed into that clown bouncing down the street...definitely a case where the score should be played as written IMO, but apparently there is a certain convention that all the best musicians of the 60's did not know about... (yes, as you can see, this is a disappointment to me, because recorded sound is usually much better nowadays - if only we could 'tone down' that particular HIP convention).

French Style

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (April 5, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote: < particular HIP convention). >
convention? I'm sorry you don't like it, but this style, which is even part of the French string method, is much more than a concoction by HIPers. As you may know, France in the 17th century was a despotic, monarch dictatorship, better known as the absolute rule of the Ancien Regime. This dynasty, brought to it's cultural height by the sun-King, Louis the XIV (I think it was the 14th) sought to glorify themselves in all areas-especially in art and architecture. The largest example of this would be the Palace at Versailles built for the Sun-King himself. Another major example of this self deifying by the king was in music, and the composer of the day at the court of Louis XIV was Jean-Baptiste Lully. He developed a style that was very pompous, proud, and all intended to glorify the King. What came out was the double dotted quarter note and single sixteenth note rhythm or a variant (please do not mind my North American notation-people may translate if they wish) that was prominent in mainly the overtures of Lully, and in other forms, such as choral music. However, the music was notated as dotted quarter + eighth note (I have no clue why it was written that way) Händel was a generous user of this style, as most of his opera overtures are in the French style. As well, many of his choruses employ this French style, and even the form of the French overture (i.e. the slow section containing the double dotted rhythm, an allegro fugal section, and a slow French style coda or ending cadence). "Behold the Lamb of God" does not follow the form, but the rhythm and style is markedly French, as are the opening chords to the accompanied recit, "Thus Saith the Lord". On a more practical note, IMO the French style played properly does not evoke a feeling of a goofy clown, but makes the music seem much more splendourous, much more solemn.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 7, 2003):
Matthew Neugebauer wrote: <<IMO the French style played properly does not evoke a feeling of a goofy clown, but makes the music seem much more splendourous, much more solemn.>>
This is my point, entirely.

The operative word is properly.

It's the HIP 'convention' of greatly shortening the dotted note itself, as well as its associated following short note, that produces the un-solemn, "goofy" effect I spoke of, especially evident in the majestic slow sections of the slow-fast-slow structures in the 1st movements of the Bach Orchestral Suites.

I heard the effect again yesterday in the largely dotted rhythm tenor aria from the SJP (BWV 245) (Ach, mein Sinn...) as performed by Parrot and the Tavener Players. Parrot converts all the dotted notes to staccato in both the continuo and the upper strings, despite the existance of a slur over many of the dotted notes and their associated following notes, resulting in the music 'bouncing' along in a jarring fashion.

Any one from the HIP camp want to do a deal? I'll concede the argument on shortened notes in secco recitatives if we can have dotted rhythm music played as written.

Marcus Song wrote (April 7, 2003):
< Neil Halliday wrote: It's the HIP 'convention' of greatly shortening the dotted note itself, as well as its associated following short note, that produces the un-solemn, "goofy" effect I spoke of, especially evident in the majestic slow sections of the slow-fast-slow structures in the 1st movements of the Bach Orchestral Suites. >

I thought that the double-dotted notation was not "invented" or used until the late 1700's or early 1800's, so that in music scores during Bach's lifetime, only the usual dotted-eighth/sixteenth notation was employed with the expectation that musicians will actually play the notes as double-dotted rhythms in the "French-style" appropriate to that particular piece of music. (Ouvertures, Suites, etc.) Can someone confirm or refute this?...I'm not sure myself.

Now I have NO idea what French music sounded like in the time of Lully and Bach, but there is a nice recording of Lully's music on the Alia Vox label. Amazon.com has some samples from the recording, in particular, Track-1 (Ouverture) is an example of the double-dotted rhythms. I don't think they sound "goofy" at all, on the contrary.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000031WY0

There are facsimiles of Lully's original scores, and another interesting feature is that eighth-note pairs in the score are executed more like dotted-eight/sixteeth pairs in the recording. I think this is called "notes-inegales". Another example of not playing what is written. It is similar to my experience in playing jazz music - no attempt was made in the music scores to exactly capture all the rhythms, so when you saw consecutive eighth-notes, it was obvious not to play them metrically, but instead play them with a "swing" (do-do-do-do-do -> doo-di-doo-di-doo) - of course that's the style.

Sorry about getting a little off-topic from Bach, but in my limited experience in playing music, it is not an uncomfortable thought that Bach would write whole-notes in the bass-line of his recitatives, like Lully with his eighth and dotted-eighth notation, or our modern Jazz music, with the full-expectation that the notes would not be executed strictly as-written.

Dotting

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 7, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Neil, there are at least two period-instrument recordings of the Bach Ouvertures where they do exactly what you ask for: play the rhythms exactly as notated.

- Boston Early Music Soloists conducted by William Malloch
- Musica Antiqua Koeln conducted by Reinhard Goebel

In the case of MAK, they recorded suites 2 and [5] the other way, first, and then they read a lot more of Frederick Neumann's writings and became convinced to try it his way. So, suites 1, 3, and 4 are Neumann's way, that is, as notated.

The booklets of both those CD sets explain what they're doing, and why. [Unless perhaps they've whacked the explanations in some reissue of the MAK; I have the original Archiv set from 1986.]

In Malloch's set, though, I have a suspicion you're going to be uncomfortable with the tempos...not that such discomfort is always a bad thing, necessarily. :)

=====

Neil, Matthew, anyone: you might also want to pick up this historical survey by Stephen Hefling, 1993: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0028710355/

I checked a copy of that book out of a university library this afternoon and started reading it this evening; now I want to go buy myself a copy to have forever as reference!

Neil Halliday wrote (April 7, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks, Brad, for this information.

It is probably the reason why, some time ago, I was very pleased with a performance, by MAK, of a Bach Suite, but on another occasion, disappointed. (Must have been a different suite).

And it looks like I've got some interesting reading to do. (Newman and Hefling).

Jim Morrison wrote (April 8, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Didn't MAK also, when they recorded the Second and spurious Fifth Suite, perform them in a OVPP manner, while in the ones they recorded later use a bigger band? Just how much larger did they go?

And even though this is a cantata list, I hope others don't mind if I mention that Manze and Kuijken have lead what are probably my two favorite recordings of these works, though the Mallois of course fun to put on every now and then, as is his Art of Fuguing.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 10, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I leave the history and scholarship to those who are drawn to it, but just as a matter of music, IMO

1) In most cases, double-dotting (7:1) seems to work better in baroque. Leaner, more elegant.
2) But if it is used exclusively, the result can be jerky and dry. It's therefore better to vary the rhythms, using single-dotting or no dotting for emphasis or even just for variety. Examples from Messiah:

In "Behold the lamb of God", double-dotting should generally be used. But the first syllable "Be" should not be dotted at all, to set the somber mood required here. Unfortunately, almost all recorded performances of this either double-dot (jerky) or single-dot (lacking punch) throughout.

2) In "The trumpet shall sound" also, double-dotting is generally best for the trumpet. But IMO it adds character and variety to play, for example, the 4th and 5th notes from the beginning (concert F#) as straight eighth notes, without any dotting.

Bradley Lehman wrote (Aapril 10, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] Something else to keep in mind: the tempo itself plays a big part in any decision of how sharply to point the dotted figures, and whether to change them from their notated values or not. (Tempo being determined primarily by the meter signature, and the types of musical figures used in the piece, and any dance or theatrical connections, and of course also the meaning of the words....)

In the example you cited, "Behold the Lamb of God" from "Messiah", that question of single vs double-dotting pretty much goes away if the tempo is reasonable. By 'reasonable' in this case I'd say something between quarter note=60 and 80; and at such a tempo it's no problem to sing and play those dotted figures in a sharp/strong enough character, but also in the rhythm as written, i.e. single-dotted.

Double-dotting in this movement is possible only if one has already chosen a too-slow tempo that has already killed the basic character of the piece.... When we "behold" something, we're being asked to perk up and take notice of it now, not at leisure.

By the way, I agree with you that it's wise to vary the rhythms, for the reasons you say here. But I also think we shouldn't limit either our playing/singing or our thinking to the discrete ratios 3:1 or 7:1, as if those were the only two possibilities. The conventional dotted notation of the 17th and 18th centuries could (and did) mean anything from 2:1 to 7:1, and beyond, determined by context (character) rather than by mathematically jamming some particular number of quick notes into a metrical box.

As you've pointed out here, the music should sound neither "jerky" nor "lacking punch" but should instead be played in the correct character, however many little subdivisions that would work out to be in a mathematical ratio. If anybody's performance sounds jerky or lacks punch, perhaps it's because they're trying to be too literal with their rendering of notation (or, sometimes, too carefully "double-dotting" as if the convention offered only that option, take it or leave it), instead of understanding and going with the character of the music!

It can be stated simply....

The moment when the music sounds rigid, in any way: that's when it's wrong.


Recitatives (& performance practice in general)

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 20, 2003):
< Thomas Braatz wrote: Brad, do you see how you continually wander away from the specific topic (one seriously concerned with current Bach performance practices) which you wish to avoid discussing at all costs? (...) [E]ngaging in serious discussions regarding Bach’s cantatas and how they should be performed becomes frustrating, not
only for you, but also for others, whose eyes ‘glaze over’ whenever you, using these techniques, attempt to defend your position which is not without a label as much as you would wish that you were completely free of such â?~biasesâ?T (as you label the labels). >
There's nothing to avoid here. I've already set out a quite clear presentation of how I (personally) play recitatives, my serious consideration of Bach performance practices. That presentation is here in this April posting: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/4382

And it has not one bleeding thing to do with "HIP" or any other faddish label (or pseudo-club, or camp, or whatever) that might be conveniently assigned to it on the way to shooting it down; it is simply an attempt to present the music as vividly as possible. I've presented my goals, and my reasons.

If you disagree, fine. Poke holes in my position as much as you want to, or try to denigrate Dreyfus or Mendel or whomever; I really don't care. My opinions about recitative as stated there don't stand or fall on anybody yanking those bricks out of the edifice (or believing that they have done so). You (Tom) can niggle at Dreyfus' methods to your heart's content, or crow that he's missed something if that amuses you; but you're wasting your energy if you think it's going to change the manner in which I choose to play. (**)

My choices are a musical and artistic stance, my personal credo; I'm not a puppet ("HIP" or otherwise) with anyone's hand up my bum controlling my choices. I just play the music as I personally believe makes sense: and my belief is based on gut feelings, and a large amount of training, and a large amount of experience.

That experience also includes six years of ushering at other people's concerts in classical-music series; hearing many of the biggest "name" stars in the business (orchestras, soloists, small ensembles), and it has nothing to do with "HIP" or "mainstream" or whatever...it was a mix of everything, all kinds of concerts. Performance is performance. I listened to and watched the performances, and just as
important, I watched the audience's reaction to the performances. It's obvious what happens to the audience when performers don't present the music gesturally enough, and this has nothing to do with "HIP". It's basic communication of the music, all kinds of music, and it's basic human perception. (And if I have any biases, it's against performers who don't do their jobs well, but who get by only on their reputations and a cautious approach: being so careful not to screw up the concert that they don't communicate anything. The people sitting there in the hall deserve to hear something HAPPEN, some imagination in action, some response to their presence, not just a dead rehash of some ossified interpretation, or a bunch of pretty notes!)

With recordings it's similar: a good performance induces one to listen to the program again and again to savor and learn from it (which one can't do with concerts, the repetition). A bad one wears out its welcome after the first play, or sometimes during the first play, or sometimes during the first 15 seconds.

What's the label you would apply to my position? Either the music sounds effective (as I believe it does when performed in the manner I describe), or it doesn't. When I'm in performance situations with colleagues who can't handle my ideas, I tone it down and play more moderately, so they remain confident in their own part of the performance and do their own best; and at the same time I try to catalyze everybody to do BETTER than they knew they could do. Everything is dynamic, an attempt to get good results out of whatever the situation is. Ideals and practical considerations temper one another, all the time. If there must be a label, let it be something like "practical". I try to be a practical musician, just as I believe Bach was.

(**) And Tom: I suggest, rather gratuitously, that you might better spend your time improving your own research methods rather than lambasting those guys; we'll all get a better Tom Braatz out of the deal. In the same way, everybody will get a better Brad Lehman out of the deal if I go spend more time practicing and reading, instead of sitting here lambasting Tom Braatz. I recognize that.

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (May 20, 2003):
<Bradley Lehman wrote: It's obvious what happens to the audience when performers don't present the music gesturally enough, and this has nothing to do with "HIP". It's basic communication of the music, all kinds of music, and it's basic human perception. >
Obvious, to whom? What audience? Which gestures? Who communicates?

< What's the label you would apply to my position? Either the music sounds effective (as I believe it does when performed in the manner I describe), or it doesn't. >
Do you resist describing your aesthetics because you are so afraid of being labeled for them?

< If there must be a label, let it be something like "practical". I try to be a practical musician, just as I believe Bach was.

But what if he wasn't?



Continue on Part 8


Articles: The “Shortening of the Supporting Notes” in the Bc of Bach’s ‘Secco’ Recitatives [Thomas Braatz] | Playing Plain Recitative in Bach's Vocal Works [Bradley Lehman]
Discussions of Recitatives:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Continuo in Bach’s Vocal Works: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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Last update: ýJanuary 29, 2005 ý15:30:54