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Sight-Reading

Bach's guys sight-reading the impossible? Doch!

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 94 - Discussions

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 26, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< There are examples of some historic ensembles which had extraordinary sight-reading talents. The Sistine Choir in the time of Palestrina was famous for never having a rehearsal and singing Palestrina's incomparable polyphony at sight.
I don't believe the myth for a second. I think they were like Harvard students who make a virture of never being seen studying in public. Even the Sistinistas were probably swatting up their parts in private. >
Not to overlook the observation also that Palestrina's textures are considerably easier to sight-read (and sight-sing) than Bach's combinations of voices and many types of instruments.

And modulation: Palestrina's music sticks pretty closely to the assigned scale/mode (therefore straightforward within a hexachord/solfege model of reading), while Bach's moves around quite a bit more.

And the type of voice-leading written in the music: Palestrina's prima prattica vocal lines with smooth contours (codified after the fact as contrapuntal "rules" by Fux etc), vs Bach's expressionistic leaps, syncopations, jags, pokes, asymmetric phrases, catch-breaths, etc against a batch of instrumental parts that are doing likewise but contrarily....

Wanna try a hard but not atypical one by Bach? I chose this example, unpremeditated, by flipping open an old copy of the Norton Scores anthology: second movement of "Ein feste Burg" BWV 80, the duet for soprano and bass. It's hard to sing any consecutive eight bars of the vocal bass part, at sight, without screwing up and without knowing ahead of time where to breathe. It's hard enough to get the sung syllables onto the right notes, let alone bringing out their meaning. It's hard to play simply the vocal bass and the continuo lines simultaneously, on a single keyboard, because they cross so many times and at unexpected places--when trying to learn the vocal part at the keyboard. Even with practice the thing is obstinately awkward (and this is a remark coming from a strong sight-reader able to play all of Bach's keyboard music, and able to sight-sing prima prattica music without difficulty....). Bach's real keyboard music is more conveniently written for hands.

I confess, it would take me at least a couple of days solid work to be confident to eke this piece out in public as a singer. Or, it would take me at least 10 minutes of study as a continuo player (jotting some figures into the part for myself) to be sure which chords belong where, and if they're major or minor or 7ths or 6 or 6/5 or whatever in this unfigured part. In bar 40 I wouldn't know to play a 7 on the second half of the bar (F# bass), without looking at or hearing the violin/viola part suspending its E over all; or the sharp #6 in the middle of bar 54.... And this is one of Bach's easier unfigured continuo parts to parse at sight. A single go at it, sight-reading at the church service, isn't enough.

If the guys in Bach's ensembles were really expected to sight-read this stuff (which assumption seems absurd to me) on less than a week's notice, and fined whenever they screwed up, that's a really quick way to build up the kitty of fines: write music like this, and hope your musicians don't bring weapons to lynch you after the service.

A score of that aria from BWV 80, movement 2: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Scores/IndexScores2.htm
But, to try the exercise of playing the vocal bass and continuo simultaneously, that short score won't do because some of the continuo has been taken down an octave in that reduction. The parts cross a lot more than it indicates here.

I recall playing continuo in a St Matthew (BWV 244), some years ago, where we had the luxury of rehearsing whole days for a week. We worked very hard, going over the various ensemble bits and rehearsing all manner of singers, at least 30 hours of rehearsals in total. Guess who screwed up at the performance, getting lost in several places? The professional opera star guest soprano, who hadn't condescended to run through her solos with any of the instrumental groups, except the dress rehearsal. She underestimated the trickiness of the music. There were some spots where I had to start playing her part on the keyboard, just so the notes would be there and some chance she'd get back on track....

The music deserves much better than slapdash guesswork at performance time.

=====

As for Bach composing complex music at a snap? Let's recall that it took him about seven years (1715-22) to get WTC book 1 into shape through a bunch of drafts, and he kept tinkering with it throughout his teaching career thereafter. And, he worked on the Art of Fugue for nearly ten. And the B minor mass, pulling together bits and pieces and refining them over many years.... How about the Musical Offering? He improvised something at court but then took a couple of months to work out a version more lasting and presentable...and hard to play, especially the 6-part ricercar (nevertheless playable by two hands after some weeks of hard work).

Sorge, as an organ teacher and composer himself, wrote about Bach's Clavieruebung III that it was wonderful music but too hard for his students....

It's no denigration of Bach's skills or genius to point out that hard music takes hard work from everybody, including Bach. Could he whip out a whole cantata in two days if somebody held a dagger to his neck, or locked him into a room on a bread-and-water diet? Perhaps. But, I don't see how we could reasonably expect such a schedule ("we need it tomorrow or you're meat!!!!!!!") to be his regular practice; or how any of his musicians would have put up with it for more than a few weeks, if it were. No chance of musical refinement, even if they managed to hit most of the right notes some decent percentage of the time.

Bach was legendary as a precise conductor, able to multi-task with various parts of his body and able to hear any little problem within the ensemble; but still it would scarcely be enough to hold a batch of sight-readers together on first go, as hard as the music is. Those who believe otherwise should go write a comparably intricate piece in half a week, get all the parts written out hastily by hand, and mount a sight-reading performance in public to see how it goes. None of the performers are allowed to have seen or heard any of it before, or studied the text ahead. Also keep in mind (so it's a fair situational test) that there's no electric lighting, no indoor climate control, the organ is being pumped manually, and there hasn't been opportunity to check if the copied parts even have the right number of bars in them, let alone any wrong notes or miscounted rests. Good luck with that.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 26, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< fined whenever they screwed up, that's a really quick way to build up the kitty of fines: >
I believe the fine print (always to be read) says that the fines were deducted from their allowances. To this cagey old dodger, sounds more like a way to balance the cash flow, than any expectation of perfection on the part of the boys. No intent to build up the kitty, just a convenient and vague excuse not to pay when the kitty was bare. Been there, done that.

< Let's recall that it took him about seven years (1715-22) to get WTC book 1 into shape through a bunch of drafts, and he kept tinkering with it throughout his teaching career thereafter. >
Andrew Rangell (Boston pianist who achieved some wider notoriety with Beethoven sonatas, 20 years back) gave an informal talk and demonstration re WTC I several weeks ago. I decided it was a bit OT to try to comment on it in detail, and so let it pass. One relevant point which was new to me, and which I pass along without any attempt at verification:

Bach pulled WTC I together from very miscellaneousexisting sources, as an example of teaching materials, as part of his application to Leipzig. With lots of last minute touch up and additions. Updating the resume (curriculum vitae), so to speak. Got my attention.

Everything that has the virtues of credibility, consistency, and (un)common sense does not turn out to be accurate.

On the other hand, just about everything that lacks those virtues does turn out to be the other stuff (BS).

This is an opportune moment to compliment Brad publicly on the credibility and common sense of his interpretation of the WTC tuning, available in detail on his personal pages. I do not feel comfortable or impartial including links to Brad's personal pages in my posts. Brad has provided them, thank you! If you are curious, look it up.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2006):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>>This is an opportune moment to compliment Brad publicly on the credibility and common sense of his interpretation of the WTC tuning, available in detail on his personal pages.<<
This may also be an opportune [? - how did this thread suddenly switch to this topic?] moment to remind readers of different, reasonable interpretation of the WTC tuning available on the BCW at:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/EqTemp1722.pdf

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 26, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< This may also be an opportune [? - how did this thread suddenly switch to this topic?] moment to remind readers of different, reasonable interpretation of the WTC tuning available on the BCW >
Thanks for the additional info. In the spirit of equal time, I <snipped> the link. Interested parties saw it, or can readily find it.

I did not intend to change topic, more a parenthetical remark. Brad Lehman mentioned WTC I. I wanted to point out that there are people (Andrew Rangell, for example) who have such a passion for these topics that they will talk and play for us, just for having the courtesy to show up. It happens that in the Boston (MA, USA) area, I have the opportunity to compare live performances of tuning alternatives, including Brad's, with minimal effort and no expense.

I consider this a wonderful opportunity, and I plan to explore it. I also plan to explore many other opportunities, some of which I will get to, and others, perhaps not. Depends.

I have no background, beyond equal temperament, in the theory of harmony or tuning, so I intend to get some sound (preferably live) in my ears first, then do reading and recorded listening. All in due time (and temperament).

Aloha, your mutual (Tom and Brad) friend, Ed Myskowski

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 26, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The professional opera star guest soprano, who hadn't condescended to run through her solos with any of the instrumental groups, except the dress rehearsal. She underestimated the trickiness of the music. >
A soprano who can sight read is an oxymoron.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 26, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Wanna try a hard but not atypical one by Bach? I chose this example, unpremeditated, by flipping open an old copy of the Norton Scores anthology: second movement of "Ein feste Burg" BWV 80, the duet for soprano and bass. >
I do know singers who could sight read the OPENING chorus credibly -- but then it's modified 'stile antico'. And of course merely being able to sight read is only the first step towards performance. I know a tenor with a beautiful voice who couldn't sight read "Row Row Row Your Boat". He has to pound the notes over and over until learns the music. And then in performance it suddenly turns into music before your very eyes. There is an
old rumour that Luciano Pavarotti couldn't read music and had to learn by rote

Bach must have been delighted with his young sight-reader, because he could then use valuable rehearsal time for interpretative nuance.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 26, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< A soprano who can sight read is an oxymoron. >
It will be interesting to see if any sopranos notice. Responses off list, please.

D. Kerr wrote (July 26, 2006):
[To Ed Myskowski] NONSENSE ! My choirboys over the years were sight-reading FIENDS ! They were trained to be so. Almost every rehearsal included some of it. One of the "tests" I frequently used was to pass out a MS copy of a familiar hymn tune which contained one or two wrong notes (deliberately so). Most were not fooled, and with great delight they sang the wrong notes as written. Every choirmaster of my generation who was worth his salt trained his choristers to be good sight-singers. Are we to assume that JSB was the sort of dullard who taught his kids by rote repetition and never thought to give them MUSICAL TRAINING ? I think not !

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (July 26, 2006):
What is Sight Reading?

D. Kerr asked:
< Are we to assume that JSB was the sort of dullard who taught his kids by rote repetition and never thought to give them MUSICAL TRAINING ? I think not ! >
I doubt if anyone on this list would disagree.

I wonder if there is a misconception by some on what musicians mean by sight reading. I have been through a sight reading flame war on another list.

If you can sight read a piece of music this means it is easy enough for you to just sit down and play or sing without practising it. Many people can read music but still need to practise a work in order to perform it.

A great many musicians claim to be able to sight read everything. No need to practise. I have never heard any of these people actually do this. Most of us need to sweat for hours before producing a polished performance. I am one of these. I don't see any shame in admitting I have to work before getting up in public and performing.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 26, 2006):
D. Kerr wrote:
< NONSENSE ! My choirboys over the years were sight-reading FIENDS ! They were trained to be so. >
There's an interesting modern gender gap here. My son, who conducts a choir, is always lamenting that his sopranos (all in their 20s) can't sight-read. The men who sang as boys in men-and-boys choirs sight-read like the wind. So do the women who sang in good church choirs. The women who sang in secular-based choirs came from a tradition where the children had to memorize their music which is no incentive to actually read the music. The kids who had two rehearsals and a warm-up for repertoire that rotated every week became much sharper musicians.

This is analagous to the music sung by Bach's Choir II and to some extent Choir III. They had a collection of 2 - 8 voice motets which were of moderate to extreme difficulty. Because the works sung reappeared annually on particular Sundays, the boys would have jockeyed to be chosen to sing particularly coveted pieces (Tebaldi and Callas had nothing on modern boys wanting to sing Mendelssohn's "Hear My Prayer"!). Competing with each other to be good sight-readers and responsive to Bach's Interpretative instructions would have created much better musicians than fines against those poor un-musical boys in Choir IV who didn't like music.

Julian Mincham wrote (July 26, 2006):
Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote:
< A great many musicians claim to be able to sight read everything. No need to practise. I have never heard any of these people actually do this. >
Truly most of uscannot do this, but a few gifted individuals can, or have been able to. Walter Gieseking not only could prepare a piano recital in as much time as he needed to read through it, but he also subscribed to the theory that all notes should be memorised and the technical problems solved before one brought the music to the instrument. He said 'it is necessary to enter into the mood of a piece to retain one's spontaneity and this is impossible if one prectices incessanttly' (Roland Gelatt--'The Musicmakers")

John Ogden could also encompass virtually anything at sight. I recall hearing him interviewed on the subject and it transpired that as a students he was asked to play the Brahms 2 in Bb that evening with the Scottish National Orche-a work he didn't yet know. Apart from looking through the score on the train on the way he virtually sight read it at performance. His own comment on it was 'I hope it didn't sound like it!" Just after he co-won the Tchaikovsky competition in, I think, 1962, he was engaged to do a tour of the ABC where several concerti and consert programmes were required. The only thing he playedf from music was the Bliss piano concerto. When asked (by a member of the orchestra who related the story to me) why he used the music for that one piece his reply was 'Oh I I' ve just started learning it!'

Bach himself seems to have been one of these gifted people with regard to reading (and, of course other things!) and I think it not too much to assume that that, by setting an example, providing the model and good teaching practices he would have brought out the best possible reading skills in his pupils, choirs and instrumentalists.

Nicholas Johnson wrote (July 26, 2006):
[To Anne (Nessie) Russell] But a pianist who is asked to accompany other musicians IS expected to read at sight in public. Not only to play most of the notes in a musical way but also to cue in the missed entry, invent the LH which the photocopier missed, skip beats WITH the singer and congratulate her afterwards!

When one is playing with a superb musician it's easy and a delight.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (July 26, 2006):
[To Nicholas Johnson] Right you are. Been there. Done that. In fact I have done a lot of that with Doug's sopranos!

I still prefer to step onto the stage with a polished performance.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 26, 2006):
[To Anne (Nessie) Russell] Perhaps the most horrific treatment of an accompanist I have ever heard of involved a recital by Kathleen Battle in Toronto. In one piece, she stopped her accompanist not once but TWICE because she didn't like the tempo, raising her hand to her brow and shaking her head. I told my wife that if we had been there I would have hissed at her. She was thankful we hadn't gone. Accompanists are there to save the asses of singers when things go wrong, but that was inexcusable.

My favourite story involves Händel at the harpsichord during an oratorio. The tenor took off into an elaborate cadenza and signalled to Händel that he was lost. Händel let him swing for a few more seconds and then brought him back to the cadence and shouted, "You are welcome home, sir!" to the great amusement of the audience.

Bruce Mangan wrote (July 26, 2006):
[To Nicholas Johnson & Anne (Nessie) Russell] As musicians I thought you might get a kick out of this "sight reading" story even though it involves a very different kind of music.

Christmas of 1998 I was invited to escort my aunt, who was a big band singer in the old days and in her 80's, to a large reunion with dinner put on by the folks at Capitol Records for all the old names still around. After the event a few of the old timers got together at my aunt's house to talk about old times. After a few drinks they decided to sing a bit. None of them played piano. My aunt volunteered me. I'd had enough wine that I said "ok". There were two books on the piano. One was Christmas music, the other was Gershwin. I opened to page one of the Gershwin and off we went. My aunt, Kay Starr, had her hand on my one shoulder. Her best friend, Margaret Whiting in from NYC (who knew the Gershwin Brothers personally as a young girl), had her hand on my other shoulder. Standing around the piano with wine glasses were Doris Day, Peggy Lee (who lived right up the street, Rosemary Clooney (my aunt and her toured together when young), and Donald Mills (the last surviving Mills Brother, since passed). I got a lot of coaching and correction, but it was a wonderful Christmas experience that I will never forget.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 26, 2006):
< My favourite story involves Händel at the harpsichord during an oratorio. The tenor took off into an elaborate cadenza and signalled to Händel that he was lost. Händel let him swing for a few more seconds and then brought him back to the cadence and shouted, "You are welcome home, sir!" to the great amusement of the audience. >
The violin cadenza in Mozart's "Musical Joke" K522 does something similar: the violinist gets so lost and eventually into a whole-tone scale at the end, before checking the open strings and finding the way back to the right key.

Isn't there also one about Händel and some singer where the singer threatened to jump over the harpsichord and attack Händel? And Händel replied something like, "Fine, more people will come to see you jump than to hear you sing."

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 26, 2006):
Bruce Mangan wrote:
< My aunt, Kay Starr, had her hand on my one shoulder. Her best friend, Margaret Whiting in from NYC (who knew the Gershwin Brothers personally as a young girl), had her hand on my other shoulder. Standing around the piano with wine glasses were Doris Day, Peggy Lee (who lived right up the street, Rosemary Clooney (my aunt and her toured together when young), and Donald Mills (the last surviving Mills Brother, since passed). I got a lot of coaching and correction, but it was a wonderful Christmas experience that I will never forget. >
Yes Bruce, there IS a Santa Claus!

Thanks for the memories.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2006):
Nicholas Johnson wrote:
>>But a pianist who is asked to accompany other musicians IS expected to read at sight in public. Not only to play most of the notes in a musical way but also to cue in the missed entry, invent the LH which the photocopier missed, skip beats WITH the singer and congratulate her afterwards!<<
When Bach writes a formal report indicating that a singer can sight-read "fertig" [finished and ready for actual performance without any additional rehearsal time needed), then this means that Bach could have put any new music (solo part or thorough-bass accompaniment for the continuo player) into the singer's hand and not need to have any concerns about whether it would be good enough for public presentation.

In contrast to Bach who is known to have meticulously put down in music notation precisely what he wanted to hear, Michael Praetorius, who, a century earlier allowed much greater flexibility in this matters (in his "Syntagma musicum" III, Wolfenbüttel, 1619, pp. 137-138), explains that an organist accompanying a singer using the thorough-bass part before him, generally played "stracks ex tempore" ("straightaway 'off the cuff' or unprepared") the simple chords indicated in the continuo part. The implication here is that the soloist was doing likewise with an essential difference: The soloist was expected at that time to supply ('according to the method') his own variations ("diminutiones" and "passagien" and embellishments) while the accompanist would at the same time maintain a simple style of accompaniment so as not to collide harmonically with the singer or detract from his solo capacity. The accompanist, although having a general idea from the thorough-bass part, would not know precisely what the soloist might be singing at the time of the performance. Praetorius then goes on to describe how the singer might then become tired from executing these embellishments and may even be a bit out of breath after having done so. At such a point the accompanist was to step up and use his right hand more to try to imitate what the soloist had been presenting, possibly even as a kind of echo of what had been previously heard sung by the vocalist. This would also be the time to apply mordants and trills since these would not interfere with the soloist who is trying to catch his breath or find his way back to the simpler melody as written on the part. Praetorius does admit that "ein ungeübter" (an 'unpracticed', 'inexperienced' accompanist) ought to look over a part carefully beforehand. In other words, sight-reading was expected of musicians unless they were outright beginners.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 26, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Isn't there also one about Händel and some singer wthe singer threatened to jump over the harpsichord and attack Händel?<<
This appears to be a distortion of the famous incident involving both Mattheson and Händel on Dec. 5, 1705 during a performance of Mattheson's third opera "Cleopatra" in which Mattheson sang the main role, Antonius. After Mattheson 'died' on stage the opera still continued and Mattheson tried to push Händel away from the harpsichord, asserting his right to resume directing from the keyboard as he had always done previously, but Händel refused to give up his position at the harpsichord. Outside the theater, both drew their swords in anger, but just at the moment Mattheson thrust his sword in what might have been a fatal blow to Händel, the sword broke because of a large metal button Händel wore on his jacket. With the help of others, both were reunited as friends for life when Händel accepted an invitation to be a guest at Mattheson's house on Dec. 30 at the end of the same month.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 27, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Isn't there also one about Händel and some singer where the singer threatened to jump over the harpsichord and attack Händel? And Händel replied something like, "Fine, more people will come to see you jump than to hear you sing." >
Shameless personal promotion moment ..

I used several of these anecdotes in my script for the Classical Kids' CD production of "Hallelujah Händel"
http://www.childrensgroup.com/sections/classical/classical_index.html

Perfect gift for the young music-lover.

Keep those retail sales high!

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 27, 2006):
>>Isn't there also one about Händel and some singer where the singer threatened to jump over the harpsichord and attack Händel?<<
< This appears to be a distortion of the famous incident involving both
Mattheson and Händel on Dec. 5, 1705 during a performance of Mattheson's third opera (...) >
No, it's not a distortion of that incident with Mattheson. It's not about that incident at all. It's a different incident where a singer complained about the way Händel was accompanying him. Why is there this apparently pathological need to "correct" my postings (in particular) in public, and to accuse them of being "distortions" and worse?

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 27, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< When Bach writes a formal report indicating that a singer can sight-read "fertig" [finished and ready for actual performance without any additional rehearsal time needed), then this means that Bach could have put any new music (solo part or thorough-bass accompaniment for the continuo player) into the singer's hand and not need to have any concerns about whether it would be good enough for public presentation. >
One of the things we have been doing in this string is trying to imagine the practical aspects which allowed Bach to perform extremely complex and difficult music. In the absence of documentary evidence, it's almost impossible to chronicle the compostional method of the composer or the preparation which was necessary to perform his music. To assume that Bach handed the music to a boy and then did nothing until the day of performance flies in the face of common sense. I would interpret the document as a memo about an individual who was particuarly talented and would prove a great musical asset, not as an indication of Bach's rehearsal methods. Bach's musicians undoubtedly had a rigorous rehearsal schedule as well as private lessons. We just don't have the documents.

Nor is the situation of Praetorius comparable. Praetorius was trying to provide collections of music to choirs which had been devastated by the Wars of Religion in the early 17th century. His commentrary is full of practical suggestions how, say a four-part motet might be sung by a church which only had a few voices and couldn't put together a full ensemble: try a solo voice and three viols, or two voices and organ .. If you have a couple of violins, add these parts ad lib. He is also realistic that war has interrupted the education of musicians, and provides tricks such as instrumental doubling to hide weak singers.

This is not the case for Bach who was blessed with a stable educational matrix which produced excellent musicians for his music. We see a few echoes of Praetorius in the cornetto and sackbutt doubling of voices in "Christ Lag In Todesbanden" and the two "extra" violin parts without viola in the "Confiteor" which are a tribute to the old "ad placitum" tradition, but Bach's control of his scores is so perfect and complete that we cannot posit that he didn't have an equally perfect rehearsal schedule to bring this music to fruition.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 27, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>No, it's not a distortion of that incident with Mattheson. It's not about that incident at all. It's a different incident where a singer complained about the way Händel was accompanying him. Why is there this apparently pathological need to "correct" my postings (in particular) in public, and to accuse them of being "distortions" and worse?<<
No, there is no "apparently pathological need to 'correct' your postings (in particular) in public" nor is there an implicit or explicit 'accusation' contained in the word 'distortion'; and what is "and worse?" supposed to imply? This was only an attempt to ascertain, the possible historical source for an anecdote upon which this 'story', your offering to this thread, might have been based or to which it probably alluded. While fiction may be entertaining for kids (and even adults at times) as explained by Doug Cowling, there are very likely list members who would like to consider the possible connection which I have offered. Do you want to prevent them from deciding for themselves what might be reasonable in this instance?

It is interesting to see the resistance offered by some to the possibility of excellent sight-reading ability on the part of Bach's performers in Leipzig. As far as rehearsals went, there seems to have been one main possibility: during Saturday afternoon Vespers, when there were only a small number of women particularly in attendance. It would also appear that, in numerous instances for which we have the original parts, Bach would not yet have personally copied out the final chorale which would be used the next morning for the first official church performance of the cantata.

To argue empirically from our personal experiences with performing Bach's works makes little sense here since the training of musical abilities in Bach's time took place under very different conditions which we are unable to emulate/recreate today. What this means is that it will be harder for us today to produce a comparable performance to that which Bach's congregations may have experienced. Certainly we should not give up trying to achieve such a noble goal. More rehearsals for us would be better than less. This is much better than patting ourselves on our backs in a complacent attitude and expecting others to believe that we have approached our Bach performances with sufficient modesty and reverence (seriousness) when we think we have had sufficient time and rehearsals to study the score and parts and perform them properly. Based on these personal experiences with Bach's music and prejudiced by our own feelings about this, we then believe that Bach could not have done it otherwise. Here the demythologizing of the Bach Genius Myth has decidely gone too far in removing some of the Romantic surrounding such a composer of great stature as Bach.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 27, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< As far as rehearsals went, there seems to have been one main possibility: during Saturday afternoon Vespers, when there were only a small number of women particularly in attendance. It would also appear that, in numerous instances for which we have the original parts, Bach would not yet have personally copied out the final chorale which would be used the next morning for the first official church performance of the cantata. To argue empirically from our personal experiences with performing Bach's works makes little sense here since the training of musical abilities in Bach's time took place under very different conditions which we are unable to emulate/recreate today. >
There was no cantata at the Saturday vespers, and I think it highly unlikely that the singers of Choir I would have been on a rota which involved them in what was primarily chorales and perhaps a simpler motet. We don't know how the singers' rota for the daily services was shaped and we don't even know how many services Bach personally directed and play at. I suspect that Saturday afternoon saw four simultaneous rehearsals taking place, and Bach was certainly at the rehearsal of Choir I.

And I disagree totally that we can't extrapolate from the experience of contermporary choirs. If we look at the history of the English residential choir schools, or the pattern of instruction for German cathedral schools we might learn a lot about the St. Thomas School. For instance, the Vienna Choir Boys are divided into three choirs, one of which is usually touring and one of which has weekly responsibility to sing the high mass in the cathedral -- sounds a bit like Bach's four choirs.

Cultural archaeology can tell us much about the situation in which Bach worked. To restrict our investigation only to documents which specifically refer to Bach leads precisely to the exaggerated portrait of sight-singing which has been suggested.

I believe Bach practised his own works.

Ralph Johnson wrote (July 27, 2006):
Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote:
< //A great many musicians claim to be able to sight read everything. No need to practise. I have never heard any of these people actually do this. >
There may be endless stories like this, but one I remember is Toscanini on a train with Honneger, reading over a very dense orchestral passage just composed by the latter. He pointed to a passage and said, "it doesn't sound here" or words to that effect.

When they got to Geneva, Honneger played it over on the piano and Arturo of course was right.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 27, 2006):
[To Ralph Johansen] There is always the need to practice and learn a score throughly --that applies to Conductors and instrumentalists.

One of the worse recorded performances of the Mahler Symphonies can be found on a recoded set by the Chicago Symphony under a noted conductor. They sound like that they just walked in off the street and sat down sight reading the music. This noted conductor who had done some Marvelous Mahler performances seems to be conducting the same way after a long flight from London. This is a good example of why practise and study of scores are necessary to get at least a passable performance.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 27, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Maybe so re Bach but he did not always write out what he wanted unless the scores I have are misleading. One finds figured bass which opens up an entire can of worms as to what was intended. Certainly not just the bass with harmony added as practice was to allow whatever the player could come up with. Of course this began to be so abused that it brought on a rebellion resulting in the Classical age in which every detail was written out with the exception of some trills et al.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 27, 2006):
[To William Rowland (Ludwig)] Actually, with the exception of his earlier Keyboard and Organ works, Bach did write out everything he intended. And to use figured bass as an example is very detrimental to your argument. In fact, Bach wrote exhaustively about thorough-bass and is believed to be the principal author of Nr. 34 (a thorough explication of the rules of thorough-bass) in the 1725 Klavierbuechlein fuer Anna Magdalena Bach.

One also should keep things in a historical perspective. No one (not even Bach's contemporaries) wrote out all ornaments, etc. intended for a work because of two things:

1.) This was intended to be left up to the discression of the performer, who most often was the same as the composer. In those days, one did not have the separation of musician and composer that we have now and have had since van Beethoven. Musicians were expected to be able to perform on a wide variety of instruments (including singing), to compose, to perform their compositions, and (in the cases of such industrial cities or for occasions that warrant it) to publicize the performances, to sell the tickets to these performances, and to produce all materials needed for the performance, including the venue and the performers.

2.) There was no concern in those days for posterity in regards to music. Each work was written for either instructional use, to lead the congregation, or for single use. By this latter, I mean that they were written for one occasion and one occasion only.

Here are some cases in point:

Take, for example, the situation of the Johannespassion (BWV 245). We say that it exists in five versions. However, in Bach's time, each "version" was considered a separate work. That he used essentially the same musical material (tweaked a little bit here and there) does not mean (as modern musicians and scholars argue) that he never came up with one concrete form for the work. This is too much using modern views and applying them to historical situations. What it means is that there are in reality five separate works called the Passion according to St. John (Johannespassion). The differences could be accounted for by a myriad of reasons, each one legitimate in itself. For example, it could be argued that the changes made for the third Johannespassion were done so out of a desire to set the Passion according to St. John exclusively, and therefore certain movements were eliminated. The differences in orchestration in this work could be accounted for by the availability of instrumentalists and a desire to support the wind section in Nrs. 21b and 25b by adding 2 Violin parts to the score. The differences between the 1724 and the 1725 Johannespassions could be explained by the fact that the 1725 Johannespassion was composed in the middle of his so-called "Chorale Cantata" cycle, as well as both the setting of the performance (the larger Thomaskirche zu Leipzig vs. the smaller Nikolaikirche zu Leipzig that witnessed the 1724 performance) and the availability of instrumentalists (in the 1724 Johannespassion (BWV 245), there were no Flutes, so these were replaced by solo Violins). The only unknown element in this is why the switch from the Gospel according to Mark to the Gospel according to Matthew in both the scene where Peter weeps and the scene where the veil of the Temple is torn in two.

D. Kerr wrote (July 27, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] And then there is the story about the late, great Melville Smith, who was rehearsing a Bach Cantata. A tenor, obviously QUITE full of himself was singing a solo aria. He warbled on at great speed, oblivious to poor Melville's attempts to slow him down. When he was done, Melville, in front of the assembled musicians, said to the tenor, "Would like sing that for us again ? And perhaps, this time, you could do it even faster--and FUNNIER."

Nicholas Johnson wrote (July 27, 2006):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] What you say about the several version of the St John Passion makes sense. Bach must have been nothing if not pragmatic.

We may fret ourselves over Richter sharpening the E in bar 24 of fugue bwv 859 but I should imagine tthe weekly visit to the supermarket weighed more in Bach's list of priorities.

Everyone has a different agenda when looking at the massive bulk of Bach's output. One flautist will not pick up his Japanese silver flute for Bach because only the 415 wooden instrument will do. But the same guy will cheerfully play the missing flute part to the Larghetto of K 452.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 27, 2006):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Take, for example, the situation of the Johannespassion (BWV 245). We say that it exists in five versions. However, in Bach's time, each "version" was considered a separate work. The only unknown element in this is why the switch from the Gospel according to Mark to the Gospel according to Matthew in both the scene where Peter weeps and the scene where the veil of the Temple is torn in two. >
The Tallis Choir of Toronto performed the 1725 version of the St. John Passion many years ago and it was a shock to us all. With the two chorale-fantasies at beginning and end, it was dominated by recitative and chorale. The choir hated it because they lost "Herr unser Herrscher" and the final chorale but it was certainly worth experiencing.

"Harmonizing" the Gospels goes back a long way, and Bach like composers before him was unwilling to lose big dramatic moments like Peter weeping and the Earthquake merely because it doesn't appear in John's Gospel. Hence the text import from Matthew.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (July 27, 2006):
[To Bruce Mangan] Cool story. Thanks.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 27, 2006):
< Based on these personal experiences with Bach's music and prejudiced by our own feelings about this, we then believe that Bach could not have done it otherwise. >
That problem comes up everywhere, but it's especially a danger when non-performing speculators try to paint a historical scenario. Not having much practical experience of knowing what makes sense (as to unwritten musicianship) in practice, they fill in missing details with impractical guesswork instead, and then proclaim it somehow more "reasonable" than real experience is.

How to start understanding Bach's notation? First, be an improvising composer, teacher, performer, and ensemble director...to begin understanding what's necessary/sufficient to write down, what must not be written down, and what can't be written down.

To do any less than that is to underestimate Bach's tasks, and Bach's flexibility and ingenuity at problem-solving.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 27, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< How to start understanding Bach's notation? First, be an improvising composer, teacher, performer, and ensemble director...to begin understanding what's necessary/sufficient to write down, what must not be written down, and what can't be written down. >
I have always thought it a testimonial to Bach's gift as a teacher that he conducted the concerted music as first violin not as continuo player (if CPE Bach is to be believed). It is a mark of a great teacher that he would give his subordinate organist both the training and the confidence to undertake such a critical role in performance. Bach could have played rings around those organists but as a practical musician he knew that part of his responsibilty was the training of the next generation. Those young men must have been terrified, but Bach clearly knew how to train musicians both technically and psychologically.

Julian Mincham wrote (July 27, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< That problem comes up everywhere, but it's especially a danger when non-performing speculators try to paint a historical scenario. Not having much practical experience of knowing what makes sense (as to unwritten musicianship) in practice, they fill in missing details with impractical guesswork instead, and then proclaim it somehow more "reasonable" than real experience is. >
This reminded me of a similar problem which arose with the publication of popular melodies from Tin Pan Alley from, particularly the first half of the century (I came across this some years ago when I was researching the sorts of numbers they played at the huge 'Dance Marathons' in the 1930s). Editors were anxious to pump out vocal versions of popular songs, with piano accomps that could be played by very also-ran amatuer pianists, as quickly as possible. They often employed hacks or students to do this; sometimes they were people who had only minimal knowledge of popular harmony and chord symbols, and the mistakes and musical solecisms which occurred, especially in the writing of the chord symbols, were legion.Many were poorly conceived and often quite wrong in relating to the chords they purported to communicate.

A similar lack of confidence in the musicians had turned up even earlier for the legions of pianists who accompanied the pre-talkies. Some of the 'music suggestion' lists put out with the films by the distributors also included descriptions of musical rudiments! This suggests that some of them were still learning basics and possibly even how to play their instruments whilst carrying on the traditions!

Different cultures, different styles and situations. However both examples indicate how later generations can find it very difficult to establish aspects of 'authenticity' about a style or repertoire because of the intervening interventions of, possibly well meaning, but certainly less knowledgable or skilled generations.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 27, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< That problem comes up everywhere, but it's especially a danger when non-performing speculators try to paint a historical scenario. Not having much practical experience of knowing what makes sense (as to unwritten musicianship) in practice, they fill in missing details with impractical guesswork instead, and then proclaim it somehow more "reasonable" than real experience is. >
At the same time, there are thousasnds of professional choral directors, organists and instrumentalists who have obstinately refused to incorporate the findings of Bach scholarship in their performance practice. For instance, it is only in the last decade or so that the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto -- the national conservatory standard in Canada -- reedited their graded piano repertoire so that the Baroque pieces actually had some measure of authenticity and Romantic dynamics and tempo markings were altered. I still constantly hear Bach organ music played by accomplished musicians as if it had been edited by Reger (it probably had been!). And we won't even begin to describe the battles to convince the dominant Central European tradition of string-playing to reassess their approach to Bach.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 27, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< At the same time, there are thousasnds of professional choral directors, organists and instrumentalists who have obstinately refused to incorporate the findings of Bach scholarship in their performance practice. For instance, it is only in the last decade or so that the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto -- the national conservatory standard in Canada -- reedited their graded piano repertoire so that the Baroque pieces actually had some measure of authenticity and Romantic dynamics and tempo markings were altered. >
Don't get me started on how dull it sounds when excellent conservatory-trained pianists sit down at a harpsichord and play exactly an editorial realization of continuo that is placed before them, as if that's all the task entails. Reliably note-perfect, but chunk chunk chunka chunk, with no hint of dynamics, phrasing, or harpsichord lessons.... And if any occasional rolled chords come up, we hear stiff delivery and the bass note starting ahead of the beat.... Bleah.

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (July 28, 2006):
Sight Reading; Cuenod
[To Ralph Johansen] I recently read a great story about Hughes Cuenod and his outstanding sight reading abilities. He once was called up one night and told that he had to fill in for a performer who had to be absent at the last second for some opera performance. Hughes was not familiar with the piece. Someone got the score for him shortly before the performance, he it on sight, memorized it as best he could, and performed it that night! He also recounts a night where he happened to be in a particular city, stayed up all night and then finding a large piece of music proceeded to sing through the entire thing with a friend as they walked home that morning. Later that afternoon he was called up by Karl Richter (who by coicidence was travelling and giving performances of one of the Bach Passions). Kurt Equiluz was singing the part of the Evangelist but had sung something like 12 days in a row and had sung himself sick. Karl found out Cuenod was in town and convinced him to sing it, which he did. Although Cuenod recounts that the piece was cut up some and that he himself was very dissatisfied with the Spanish chorus being used.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 28, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Hence, my regular excision of names as to who brought up what. It's not condescension, or refusal to condescend, or whatever is alleged. Just a difference of personal style, about which nobody really needs to be lectured in public. I have this same style on several other lists, where I quote back just the idea or topic and then I add my remarks. If some members more regularly than others bring up preposterous and unsupportable (by evidence)statements that draw my reactions, and my questions of clarification, so what?<<
In regard to the above attitude and in consideration of yourself as "einen guten Accompagnisten" ('good accompanist'), I would highly recommend as an antidote a rereading of CPE Bach's description of the characteristics of a 'good accompanist' as found in his "Versuch" Part II, Berlin, 1762, Chapter 32, Paragraph 3, pp 269ff. Think of the other readers on this Bach list as other 'performers' "die nicht vom Metier sind" (non-specialists who love Bach's music dearly).

Bach's major points: A good accompanist

1) with the greatest amount of modesty wishes to share in the honor that all desire in this cooperative effort

2) prefers to allow others to shine rather than obscure their efforts

3) continually accepts and supports both the intentions of the composer (J. S. Bach, in this instance for this list) and the results of the performers (other list members) - in trying to achieve a harmony between both

4) wherever possible and whenever furthering the content, attempts to bring out all the beautiful spots in the presentation

5) accomplishes the above with great care so that he does not restrict (cut down) the others

6) does not constantly promote his own artistic abilities, but does this rather sparingly and only when exceptional conditions demand this

7. never forgets that he is only an accompanist and not the leader

8) knows that such a good accompaniment brings life into a performance (a discussion, as it were, between
the participants)

9) knows that a poor accompaniment will spoil the performance for even the best performer because all the beauties therein and even the good disposition of the performer are spoiled and/or lost.

Summary thought (CPE's own):

"Ein discreter Accompagnist muß eine gute musicalische Seele haben, welche vielen Verstand und guten Willen hat." ("A subtle accompanist must have a good musical soul with much understanding and show some goodwill.")

In the sections that follow, CPE Bach speaks of "nachgeben" (giving in to, yielding to others) whether out of politeness or necessity.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 28, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< At the same time, there are thousasnds of professional choral directors, organists and instrumentalists who have obstinately refused to incorporate the findings of Bach scholarship in their performance practice. For instance, it is only in the last decade or so that the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto -- the national conservatory standard in Canada -- reedited their graded piano repertoire so that the Baroque pieces actually had some measure of authenticity and Romantic dynamics and tempo markings were altered. >>
< Don't get me started on how dull it sounds when excellent conservatory-trained pianists sit down at a harpsichord and play exactly an editorial realization of continuo that is placed before them, as if that's all the task entails. Reliably note-perfect, but chunk chunk chunka chunk, with no hint of dynamics, phrasing, or harpsichord lessons.... And if any occasional rolled chords come up, we hear stiff delivery and the bass note starting ahead of the beat.... Bleah. >
What folks now need to stop doing is playing Bach on the Piano (JS never wrote for the Piano although his son did) and let's have him back on the keyboard instruments that he wrote for--the Harpsichord, Clavichord and Organ. There are in the United States, Britain, France and Canada as well as Mexico some outstanding Harpsichord builders as well as other baroque instruments in common use in the baroque age. The Piano is a classical- romantic period instrument and these elements creep in unavoidably due to the nature of the Piano.

There is little excuse these days for not doing so as harpsichords are being built everyday as well as clavichords and prices range from very affordable build it yourself kits to pricey professional finished ones. There is no excuse for not having an Oboe d'amore play the parts that Bach wrote for or an Oboe da caccia play parts written for it or the taille parts. Bach after all was the inventor of the Oboe da caccia with the help of one of his Oboe players and no excuse for leaving the Glass Harmonica out of Beethoven's Leonore Overture or Mozart's and other composers who wrote for the Glass Harmonica.

Please forgive the spam; as I am going practice what I preach by telling you at least in the US where these intruments maybe obtained and mention brand names. Perhaps others on this list will likewise contribute who luthiers are in thier particular country.

In the United States; the first place to look for luthiers et al is in Boston, Massachusettes. Just about every instrument that Bach wrote for can be ordered or is for sale there. Getting the Glass Harnomica out of the way first (which Bach did not write for but some of his Chorals sound great on) There is the Finkbeinner firm which not only makes Glass Harmonicas but scientific glass parts including telescope blanks.

Finkbeiner makes Glass Harmonica's from about a two Octave range to a 61 note Grand which sounds as written. Prices (last I checked) range from 1000 to around 5000. Mr. Finkbeiner's website is: http://www.finkenbeiner.com/

Also in Boston area: Johnathan Bosworth makes Oboe da caccias (the real one modeled after one found in Germany) and other Oboes. I am sorry but I do not have web address for him nor a street address at the present time and will have to get back to you on this.

Boston was for a while the capital of North American Harpsichord building center in which Hubbard Harpsichords were the leaders. When Frank was in Boston; I played one of his instruments and I must say that they are nothing like the Pleyel pseudo-harpsichord clunker that Wanda Landowska played with very stiff resistant action. This is not to speak disparingly of Pleyel--they were after all fine Piano manufactuers who just did not understand the The action was smooth and never left one wondering if the plectrum was going to pluck or not. The Hubbard firm has now moved and here are the details:
Hubbard Harpsichords, Inc.
1 Watson Place,Framingham, MA 01701
Phone: 508-877-1735
FAX: 508-877-1736 (Fax hours: 6PM - 9AM E. T.)
E-mail: hubharp@aol.com

They have kits one can build from which are in various forms.. I do not know current prices but when Frank first got his business on the ground one could buy a quality French double from him for less than 5k US. About the time he and his partner separated---apparently the union came into the shop and prices shot up astoundingly as well as Boston Real Estate. Do not be tempted to go to Boston to pick up your instrument have it shippped or delivered to you instea-parking is a nightmare ---if you can find a space; cab drivers rip people off---my experience has been particularly the Boston Cab Company is the main criminal culprit in this. Real estate has gone through the roof---a modest home or apartment now goes for millions of dollars that else where would be much less.

In France there is The Paris Workshop;24 rue J.J. Rousseau F93100 Montreuil-sous- Bois (Paris) phone 33-1 48 51 9396. The website is: http://www.theparisworkshop.com/

I do not recall exactly where this is in Paris but I think it is on the Seine and nearby is a hotel or was called the l'hotel du nord. If I am remembering correctly he is an Englishman (David Wray now deceased) working with Marc Ducornet (who took over the business), a native Frenchman and also an American --Zuckerman--who relocated to Paris. They offer kits or professionally finished instruments.

When I was in pursuit of my Bachelor's; my college professor ordered a Harpsichord kit from Zuckerman. The kit did not include most of the lumber requiredand my professor(who was not very astute when it came to cabinet making etc) used the cheapest wood(Pine) possible and parts. He had given up on ever playing it but I was able to get it back into playing shape after he went on summer sabbatical without maintaining air conditioning. Temperatures reached up in the 100s and humidity up to 90 % levels. When he returned the instrument was twisted something like seen in a Salavadore Dali painting. The action was on the stiff side. This was back in the 1960s.

Since then Zuckerman has greatly refined his instruments and they are of much higher quality. You can still order the kits as well as completed instruments. I am sorry no more $150 kits. Action is smoother also. They offer completed instrurments as well as kits and prices range up to 20K USA Dollars. If you get a kit---do not do as my college professor did. Use the finest materials and have a cabinet maker cut out the parts for you if you are not skilled in Cabinet making. You will be happier in the long run. They have various styles such as the German type that Bach may have played at Zimmerman's Coffee House to all purpose French Doubles. Real Ivory can be legally obtained in the United States and elsewhere by using Walrus or Mammoth Ivory but should be gotten with a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife service sources
are Alaskan aboriginees.

One of the great pleasures of Harpsichord playing I have had is in playing instruments of the Canadian Firm of the Sabathil Firm of Vancouver, B.C.. The action is very smooth and the plectra have low resistance so one can play very fast passages as well as slow ones. Recently I was invited to play the Sabathil that Christ Church (also known as John Wesley's Church where Methodism got started in the US) in Savannah, Georgia had purchased around 1966. It still played like the day it was new. These are the details of them
S. Sabathil & Son Ltd.
729 Gardner Lane
Bowen Island BC, V0N 1G0
Phone: 604-947-0440
Fax: 604-947-0440
email: musical-1@shaw.ca

They do not apparently have a webpage and it took some long research to find their email address and phone number so you might want to add them to your addess book since they are not that easy to find.

Blockflutes are also made and repaired in Boston. I have misplace the fellows name who makes such fine instruments and also does quality repairs. I will let you know but believe it is called something like the Instrument workshop.

Viola Gambas are also made in Boston. However, I have misplaced the address and phone number. There is the Luthier's Workshop where you can learn to make your own string instruments--guitars et al. They are online.

Viola da gamba made by Charlie Ogle
info@violadagamba.com
phone: 541-683-4500(weblisted this is a law foundation)
2505 Capital Dr
Eugene, OR 97403-2817
(541) 485-9649 (phone book listing)
fax: 541-683-4492
Charlie says to please remember that this is in the Pacific time zone of the United States. That means if you are on the otherside of the Internatinal time zone you need to call Charlie when it is night time where you are and if you are in Europe the same applies (you need to call Charlie around 11pm (23hrs) or earlier. In Japan you can call at 7 am in the morning but not later than 10 am Tokyo time.

Charlie also makes Violes and could make you a Viola d'amore.

For one stop shopping in everything from period instruments to having an instrument made for you---in Plymouth Massachusettes USA there is:
The Antique Sound Workshop
Telephone: +1 (508) 833-3979
Fax: +1 (508) 833-3760
Business Hours: M-F 10-6 EST
Their web address is:http://www.aswltd.com/

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 28, 2006):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Summary thought (CPE's own):
"A subtle accompanist must have a good musical soul with much understanding and show some goodwill." >

Who would have thought this of CPE? Certainly not me, before now. Thanks for the reference.

Clearly (!), there is plenty of need for more good will in the world. On the brighter side, there is already a lot of good will amongst Bach listeners on BCW. If CPE knew Aloha, he might have used that word.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 28, 2006):
Hautbois da caccia - Taille [WAS What is Sght Redng?]

William Rowland 'ludwig' wrote:
>>Bach after all was the inventor of the Oboe da caccia with the help of one of his Oboe players...<<
This issue was discussed before on this list. Link: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV25-D2.htm

See your question and my response on this from Sep. 25, 2005 near the bottom of the page.

My statement there was:
>>There is an existing oboe da caccia made by Johann Heinrich Eichentopf [Leipzig, 1724.] It has a wide, brass bell at the end of it. There is no indication that Bach was involved in 'inventing' this instrument.<<
Ulrich Prinz has done an exhaustive study of this matter which is covered in the chapter entitled: "Hautbois da caccia - Taille" on pp. 360ff in his book "Johann Sebastian Bachs Instrumentarium", Stuttgart/Kassel, 2005. There is no evidence for the claim that Bach was the inventor or co-inventor of this instrument.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 28, 2006):
[To Nicholas Johnson] Whilst I may not agree with the flautist you stated, I can understand his point and sympathize with it. Although modern instruments sound nice and bring out a sharper tone in Bach's work, I also think that to really bring out the expressiveness and authentic language of Bach's music, one should perform them on instruments he would have had it performed on.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 28, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Actually, the opposite is true. There were only a few settings that included items of all Passion Gospels, and these were usually synoptic settings like Leonhard Lechner's Johannespassion. All of Schuetz's Historiae (which were the prototype [along with Johann Walther's settings] for the Evangelical Passion setting) dealt exclusively with only one Gospel. As did others from Walther to Bach to Emanuel Bach and his contemporaries.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 28, 2006):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< Actually, the opposite is true. There were only a few settings that included items of all Passion Gospels, and these were usually synoptic settings like Leonhard Lechner's Johannespassion. >
I stand corrected if that's true, but I'm sure I read somewhere that contemporary Passions (Brockes? Telemann?) added the "dramatic" incidnets like the Earthquake to gospel narrative which lacked them.

Neil Mason wrote (July 28, 2006):
Sorry, cannot agree with the comment that Bach should only be played on the instruments he wrote for.

In my state (=province) there are, for example, only three oboes d'amore, two of the owners of which live two hours' drive from me. There are no oboes da caccia. The only harpsichord available to me is electronic instrument, which sounds OK in concerted pieces but not really as a solo instrument.

There are NO baroque oboes or players thereof. Therefore the number of cantatas we could perform at A=415 is limited.

So what should one do? I would argue that it is better to perform on modern instruments at incorrect pitch with a feeling of spirit in the music than to have these works not performed at all in my state.

Also, I simply could not follow the argument that, although one shouldn't use a piano, it is OK to use a glass harmonica. Did I miss something?

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 28, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Your statement re oboe da caccia seems to go against many others such as the Harvard Dictionary of Music and Groves and Deems Taylors writing on the subject.

However, I am willing to conceded your point if you will conceded my point on the use of Blockflutes instead of 'recorder'.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 28, 2006):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
<< Actually, the opposite is true. There were only a few settings that included items of all Passion Gospels, and these were usually synoptic settings like Leonhard Lechner's Johannespassion. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I stand corrected if that's true, but I'm sure I read somewhere that contemporary Passions (Brockes? Telemann?) added the "dramatic" incidents like the Earthquake to gospel narrative which lacked them. >
There are only two choices:
(1) It was an innovation with Bach, or his theologians, or librettist.
(2) It was a tradition (however old or not), or recent innovation by others, which Bach et al adopted.

I do not have an opinion, other than that here and now is an appropriate (clearly!) time and place to sort it out.

Sorry for the nested thread. I agree that it is best to avoid them, for clarity. But in responding to an exchange which includes the phrases <the opposite is true>, <au contraire, mon ami>, or similar, a quick citation from both sides can add to clarity. Many other instances as well.

If both parties are identified.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 28, 2006):
Neil Mason wrote:
< So what should one do? I would argue that it is better to perform on modern instruments at incorrect pitch with a feeling of spirit in the music than to have these works not performed at all in my state. >
I do not have anything of substance to add, just felt like saying I agree, from the other side of the planet.

< Also, I simply could not follow the argument that, although one shouldn't use a piano, it is OK to use a glass harmonica. Did I miss something? >
Perhaps there is a (specious) argument that the glass harmonica predates the piano? Or is somehow more authentic to the period?

The arguments become especially convoluted when we remember that we are talking about guys who couldn't wait to get their hands on the latest instrumental innovation. Among others, traverso for Bach, especially prominent in BWV 94, which brings us back to.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 28, 2006):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
>>There were only a few settings that included items of all Passion Gospels, and these were usually synoptic settings like Leonhard Lechner's Johannespassion. All of Schuetz's Historiae (which were the prototype [along with Johann Walther's settings] for the Evangelical Passion setting) dealt exclusively with only one Gospel. As did others from Walther to Bach to Emanuel Bach and his contemporaries.<<
Martin Luther, in his "Deutsche Messe", 1526, stated that he was against "das »vier Passion singenn" ("the singing of the synoptic Passion or "summa passionis"). The effect of this statement still reverberated among those supporting Lutheran orthodoxy at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century in Germany.

>>In the 18th century there were basically four different types of Passion setting. The simple old type without instruments was by this time commonly embellished with hymns, but was more or less ignored by the best composers. A second type, the oratorio Passion, was more artistic, but still adhered to thebiblical text; and a third was the Passion oratorio in operatic style with completely original text. Finally, there was the lyrical meditation on the Passion without direct dialogue. The only respect in which nomenclature has distinguished between these varieties is that the oratorio Passion, in contrast to the Passion proper and the Passion oratorio, is often called ‘Passions-Music’ (coupled with the name of the Gospel), while the textually freer Passion, generally based on all four Gospels, often has a poetic title. The former is the type most commonly found in the first third of the 18th century. By adhering closely to a single Gospel text (written in red ink in the autograph score of Bach's St Matthew Passion) it met the devotional requirements of orthodox Lutheranism.<<

from section written by Werner Braun in the Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2006, acc. 7/27/06.

The key phrase in the last sentence about Bach's SMP (BWV 244) is "adhering closely" which is not the same as being based entirely upon a single Gospel text.

Eric Bergerud wrote (July 28, 2006):
William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote:
< What folks now need to stop doing is playing Bach on the Piano (JS never wrote for the Piano although his son did) and let's have him back on the keyboard instruments that he wrote for--the Harpsichord, Clavichord and Organ. There are in the United States, Britain, France and Canada as well as Mexico some outstanding Harpsichord builders as well as other baroque instruments in common use in the baroque age. The Piano is a classical- romantic period instrument and these elements creep in unavoidably due to the nature of the Piano. >
I wasn't aware that we know what instrument Bach composed Art of the Fugue (BWV 1080) for. His friend and organ maker Gottfried Silbermann pioneered the construction of German piano making beginning around 1730. Perhaps it's urban legend but Edwin Ripin claims in his article on the piano in the Britannica that Bach heard one of Silbermann's early instruments and didn't like it, but did give a later version intended for Frederick the Great thumbs up. (Of course if Bach had a modern concert grand he would used it. Bet he would have driven a Lexus too if one was available.)

But I agree that all of Bach's recorded works on piano should be purged from the catalog and concert hall. Along with female vocalists. Along with all modern instruments. Along with slow tempos and big choirs, especially if they are accompanied by modern instruments and include female vocalists. No doubt, if I hear Barbara Bonny, Nancy Argenta, Magdalena Kozena, Arlene Auger or Ruth Holton warble Bach arias I'm rushing to replace the CD with something by Metallica or The Police.

But when making my bonfire I may well forget to chuck in my Charles Rosen AF or my Glenn Gould for that matter. (This isn't exactly in the SMP (BWV 244) played by solo accordion category but I recently obtained the Emerson Quartet doing the Goldbergs: it's delightful.)

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 29, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I wasn't aware that we know what instrument Bach composed Art of the Fugue for. His friend and organ maker Gottfried Silbermann pioneered the construction of German piano making beginning around 1730. Perhaps it's urban legend but Edwin Ripin claims in his article on the piano in the Britannica that Bach heard one of Silbermann's early instruments and didn't like it, but did give a later version intended for Frederick the Great thumbs up. (Of course if Bach had a modern concert grand he would used it. Bet he would have driven a Lexus too if one was available.) >
I've never been fond of Bach on the modern piano except for Glenn Gould -- but then his piano hardly sounds like a piano.

I did however hear a concert by a period orchestra which allotted the Concerto f4 Klaviers to two harpsichords and two early fortepianos. It was delightul, and, although an arrangement, it was an arrangement which the Bach boys might well have put together for their father.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 29, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Actually, they did not. Neither Brockes's dramatic poem (which was inspired by, not actual, Passion texts) and Ramler's magnum opus for Karwoche "Der Tod Jesu" did not include the earthquake or any other of that part of Matthew's Gospel (Mark and Luke only mention the Temple veil being torn in 2, and only Luke also mentions the sun going down).

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 29, 2006):
[To Thomas Braatz] Yet Bach did adhere to the Matthew text. Any Bach biography or study of Bach works bears out the fact that he put extreme emphasis on the Scriptural word. That he used red ink for Scripture passages is also in line with this.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 29, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] No even with Glenn Gould. In fact, the reason why Gould makes the Piano sould not like a Piano is the way he plays it (very staccato). What I would like to see is a re-emergence of the Christofori Fortepiano or the Silbermann Fortepiano or any other of the earlier ancestors of the modern Piano.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 29, 2006):
[David Glenn Lebut Jr.] You are correct that Silberman did supposedly try his hand at constructing a piano. It is not known for sure that Bach ever saw or heard it. The most concrete evidence that Bach had seen a piano are those at Potsdam.

The construction of Silberman's "Piano" if it was one looks more like a Clavichord than a Piano and I suspect that is what the romantic age writers confused this instrument with. Never the less Bach never wrote music for the Piano. It is a shame that Glenn Gould did not take up the Harpsichord.

If my scanner was working I would send you aa diagram and drawing of the Silberman Instrument.]

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 29, 2006):
[David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Die kunst des fuge was not intended per se as a performance piece but as an example for students who had aspirations of composition to study. I have been told that the Die kunst des fuge was composed for one of his sons---most likely the London Bach if not W.F..

If it was performed at all ---in all likelyhood it would have been performed on one or all of three instruments: Harpsichord, Clavichord, and Organ.

This work give us some insight into Bach's teaching methods---that is a student 'learned' by observing and then putting into practice what he had observed.

Raymond Joly wrote (July 29, 2006):
Ludwig wrote:
< Silberman[n] did supposedly try his hand at constructing a piano [...]. The construction of Silberman[n]'s "Piano" if it was one looks more like a Clavichord than a Piano [...] If my scanner was working I would send you a diagram and drawing of the Silberman Instrument. >
I hope your scanner will soon be working. I would love to see diagrams or a Silbermann piano as a rectangular box and equipped with Tangenten instead of hammers.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 29, 2006):
Ludwig wrote:
< Die kunst des fuge was not intended per se as a performance piece but as an example for students who had aspirations of composition to study. I have been told that the Die kunst des fuge was composed for one of his sons---most likely the London Bach if not W.F.. >
Firstly, ir was intended for both study and performance. In fact, the format most commonly known and performed was not the first version of it. Bach had in the early 1740s *1741, I believe) published and completed a manuscript of this work. It was only later in 1749/1750 that he decided to revise it into the format we know today.

Secondly, it was not likely at all composed for any of his sons.

< If it was performed at all ---in all likelyhood it would have been performed on one or all of three instruments: Harpsichord, Clavichord, and Organ. >
Harpsichord only. This per Gustav Leonhardt.

< This work give us some insight into Bach's teaching methods---that is a student 'learned' by observing and then putting into practice what he had observed. >
Actually, Ludwig, it does not necessarily do so. It gives us an insight into fugal and contrapuntal writing, but not into instruction. The three "Klavierbuechlein" sets, the Klavieruebung series, the "Schuebler Choraele", the Sonaten for Organ, the Orgel-Büchlein, the "Leipzig Manuscript", and the Das Wohltemperierte Klavier give us insights into Bach's instructional techniques because that was what these sets were written for--instruction.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 30, 2006):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] What I meant about Bach's Pedagogic compositional methods is just what you said. When I was learning how to write I fuge this was the work I consulted. I can not say it was as much help as my instructors in Counterpoint and Canonic species from whom I learned much more than trying to follow Bach's examples.

While I have the greatest respect for Gustav Leonhardt; he is at times rather dogmatically extrema and seems to expect everyone else to accept his dictates unquestioningly.

In all the manuscripts I have seen of "Die kunst des fuge" apparently either in his hand or his copyist---I have seen no particular instrument designated but most of the writing fits nicely under the hand which indicates to me at least a Keyboard instrument of some sort and probably one of the three or all of them.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (July 30, 2006):
[To Ludwig] Except for the fact (as Leonhardt correctly points out) that there is no indiction for the use of the 16' stops that would indicate use of Organs (as the 16' stop was the fundamental stop for the Pedal-Keys of the Organ).

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 31, 2006):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] 16 foot is NOT a fundamental stop of the pedal organ no more than 8 foot is fundamental stop to the manual. As someone who not only is a performer, consultant and who works closely with Organbuilders and has obsessively studied Organ inside and out for over 50 years---I can vouch this is absolute truth.

A proper Pedal Organ has pitches of ranging from 32' up to 1' and beyond as independent stops. The fundamental stop of the pedal organ can be of any pitch depending on the size organ to be build. My firm has built house Organs in which the bassiest stop is an 8 footer and other builders do the same.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 31, 2006):
< While I have the greatest respect for Gustav Leonhardt; he is at times rather dogmatically extrema and seems to expect everyone else to accept his dictates unquestioningly. >
What extreme is this? The man has written ONE book, and of only several dozen pages. It was in 1952. What's this about expecting everyone else to accept dictates unquestioningly? Bah.

My own harpsichord teacher studied with Leonhardt, and his remarks to me about Leonhardt's teaching style (and conducting style!) were that it wasn't any dictatorial situation. On the contrary, Leonhardt's style is to set up an environment where colleagues contribute good ideas, and flexibility is a norm.

Tom Hens wrote (July 31, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< While I have the greatest respect for Gustav Leonhardt; he is at times rather dogmatically extrema and seems to expect everyone else to accept his dictates unquestioningly. >>
< What extreme is this? The man has written ONE book, and of only several dozen pages. It was in 1952. >

And IIRC, that was his dissertation -- he was legally required to write it to get his degree.

< What's this about expecting everyone else to accept dictates unquestioningly? Bah.
My own harpsichord teacher studied with Leonhardt, and his remarks to me about Leonhardt's teaching style (and conducting style!) were that it wasn't any dictatorial situation. On the contrary, Leonhardt's style is to set up an environment where colleagues contribute good ideas, and flexibility is a norm. >
Leonhardt is one of the most un-dictatorial people i, which is probably also why he doesn't like conducting very much. He gave up the job of conducting choruses of cantatas to Philippe Herreweghe soon after he joined the H/L cantata project, because he thought Herreweghe was better at it than he himself. He is also extremely reticent about publicly expressing opinions of any kind, let alone coming up with dogmatic statements. In one of the few TV interviews he's ever given, on Dutch TV, he had reluctantly agreed to give a little bit of spoken analysis of one of Bach's harpsichord suites and how to perform it, in dialogue with the interviewer (an amateur pianist), but he made quite clear that he really didn't like doing that kind of thing, and that in general he thinks musicians who talk about music a lot are "suspicious characters" (for those who don't trust my translation: the Dutch phrase he used was "verdachte figuren"). (In the detailed analysis that followed, they didn't even get all the way through the opening Allemande before the time ran out. And most of that time was taken up by Leonhardt playing the harpsichord to demonstrate what he'd said.)

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Harnoncourt & Leonhardt - General Discussions Part 8 [Performers]

Ed Myskowski wrote (August 31, 2006):
Tom Hens wrote:
< "suspicious characters" (for those who don't trust my translation: the Dutch phrase he used was "verdachte figuren"). >
Verdachte? Sounds suspicious to me.

 

sight-reading (was drifting "Supernumerarii" speculation)

Continue of discussion from: Bach's Pupils [Bach & Other Composers]

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 15, 2006):
Good sight-reading ability isn't fundamentally a performance skill. It's rather a learning skill: the ability to comprehend one's part efficiently and independently, during the preparation process before or between rehearsals. It's an ability not to waste an inordinate amount of group rehearsal or coaching time, to get the obvious elementary errors fixed.

The harder the music, the more confident and skilled the sight-reading needs to be, before or between rehearsals; not saying anything one way or another about sight-reading during actual performance. [With which I'm well familiar, too, being a strong sight-reader for more than 35 years, and occasionally having to do it totally cold during church services....]

None of this distinction of course makes a practical whit of difference, to those who cling to the romanticized fiction of brats somehow sight-reading Bach's concerted music better than modern professionals can do with days of serious preparation. That bizarre speculation always trumps reasonable practice, and knowledge of feasibility through actually doing this music. It makes no practical sense to me, but apparently it never goes away either. It looks to me like merely a made-up excuse to assassinate professional musicians and our
reputations, in public.

=====

There are some practical and musical drawbacks to being a strong sight-reader. Among them:

- Too much reliance on it, instead of learning better fingerings or phrasings through more careful and detailed study (some of which is best done away from the instrument!).

- With wind instruments or singing, it is rarely obvious on first pass where the optimal spots for breathing are. If a piece has been sight-read a few times, bad habits are quickly learned, and less easily unlearned when the piece is worked on more seriously later (for any technical issues).

- A tendency to judge some pieces as easier (or less substantial) than they really are, if the first or second pass through sight-reading them reveals no obvious problems...leading to superficial or inconsequential interpretations.

- Conversely, a tendency to judge some other pieces as more difficult than they really are, merely because they're harder to sight-read.

- A tendency to under-rehearse, or to refuse to rehearse at all, again because the music seems little problematic.

- A tendency to learn music only by seeing a score, instead of by listening closely to details or picking it up by rote.

- A tendency toward inflexibility, not accepting or understanding ideas (or musical content!) that don't appear on the easily sight-readable page. Style gets disregarded, because it goes beyond the notes, and the notes seem too obvious and easy.

- It can too easily take the place of thinking, or even paying attention to the music as it's happening. When the hands or voice automatically do what the page says, and the mind wanders elsewhere meanwhile, the music suffers even though the notes are still being rendered "correctly".

- A tendency to fall into generic patterns, instead of noticing distinctions. Patterns are good, but only insofar as they lead to coherent groupings, and not merely automatic responses.

- A tendency not to improvise enough, or to perform enough by memory, because that sight-readable page offers security that can turn into a permanent crutch.

These are not arguments against the skill of sight-reading. It's still better to be able to sight-read well, than not to! I'm simply fleshing out my remark above that it's not necessarily a useful performance skill, but rather a learning skill.

Music is a language. Some of the process here is akin to reading a paragraph of words silently, in some language, in preparation to declaim it aloud on a stage. One might be able to grasp the sense of the paragraph, and some concept of every word, instantly if one's knowledge of the language is fluent enough; that's a sight-reading skill. But, that doesn't mean one can automatically also pronounce everything with the proper accent or sense, or an optimal hierarchy of emphasis, at first sight. That's a separate performance skill, and a separate requirement. And, if one's sense of each word goes automatically (thoughtlessly) to some default meaning, prima vista, some other usage or sense of the passage might well be missed because the sight-reading process was too easy/fluent. A slower study of the material can lead to firmer retention and better comprehension.

Nessie Russell wrote (September 15, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] We've been down this road before. I am a teacher and a performing musician so I have to agree with what Brad said.

In other occupations people who work hard are respected. In music there seems to some sort of shame involved in practising.

How is a performance which is thrown together better than one which is well thought out and rehearsed?

I have always pictured Bach as being Very Particular about how his music was performed.

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 15, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Good sight-reading ability isn't fundamentally a performance skill. It's rather a learning skill: the ability to comprehend one's part efficiently and independently, during the preparation process before or between rehearsals. It's an ability not to waste an inordinate amount of group rehearsal or coaching time,to get the obvious elementary errors fixed.<<
None of this distinction of course makes a practical whit of difference, to those who cling to the romanticized fiction of brats somehow sight-reading Bach's concerted music better than modern professionals can do with days of serious preparation.<<

Another interesting observation made by the editors of the NBA who have carefully examined Bach's extant original parts is that, in addition to some obvious copy errors not having been corrected and no corrections, changes, or additions being made by any performer, the usually single pages (not continuo parts, naturally) show no evidence of the usual wear and tear that might arise from numerous rehearsals or frequent performances of a work. There are no 'dog-eared' pages, nor do these pages exhibit the traces left by sweaty or oily hands. Obviously these pages did not 'travel home' with the singer or player for whom the part, some of them were particularly difficult instrumental obbligato or coloratura singing parts, might have been intended. What if a part were lost or destroyed through fire between a rehearsal and the Sunday morning perfowhich might take place 14 to 15 hours later? The only parts that might have been lent out are the doublets (mainly Violin 1 and 2 and another set of vocal parts) of which the majority of them have been lost while the original complete set is still extant. These doublets, as a rule, did not contain the difficult obbligato violin parts, but nevertheless, these parts might have been studied more carefully by those performers whose sight-reading skills were weakest.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 16, 2006):
Nessie Russell wrote:
< In other occupations people who work hard are respected. In music there seems to some sort of shame involved in practising. >
Perhaps to outsiders, yes. I'm personally in awe of people who can put in several hours a day, maybe even four or five or more, really working hard on the music: both that their stamina allows it, and that their schedule allows it (not having to earn money doing something else during that time). I'm lucky to get five to eight hours in, catch as catch can between other things, total for a week; and if I'm preparing some serious gig that's not sufficient time to work much new up. That's just maintenance time on technique and skills, and it always starts with at least two or three minutes of tuning.

If I have to travel somewhere to practice on organ or piano, there goes the whole evening or half of Saturday, which family commitments rarely allow. Ditto for any gig not in the hometown, there goes the day...while taking vacation time off the really paying non-music job.

< How is a performance which is thrown together better than one which is well thought out and rehearsed? >
Not, of course. The joys and perks of spontaneity are even better when the material is thoroughly prepared/rehearsed first, and then spontaneous on top of it. Not spontaneity through panic or insufficient practice, or mere reliance on sight-reading skills during performance!

< I have always pictured Bach as being Very Particular about how his music was performed. >
Similar picture here. And, Bach's music is some of the first to crash if it's been under-rehearsed...and taking the most concentration to stay on track.

 

Sight-singing, Emphasis upon

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 12, 2007):
Here are two biographies which contain early 18th-century references to the importance of sight-singing. I have not extracted the pertinent passages because the biographies, particularly Fuhrmann's are quite interesting in themselves:

Münster, Joseph Joachim Benedict

(born in Gangkofen, near Salzburg, ?30 Jan 1694; died after 1751). German composer and theorist. He matriculated at Salzburg University in 1710, but in 1712 his father's death and his mother's immediate remarriage ended his studies. By 1715, the year he married, he was working as schoolmaster and choirmaster at the church of St Zeno in Bad Reichenhall. He later changed his profession from teaching to law, while retaining his post as choirmaster. As well as several volumes of church music, he produced a manual of sight-singing, "Musices instructio . Kürtzist doch wohl gründlicher Weg . die Edle Sing-Kunst . zu erlernen (?1732) which was published in the 1730s and went into nine editions, and a plainsong manual, "Scala Jacob," in 1743.
Elizabeth Roche in Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2007, acc. 2/11/07


Fuhrmann, Martin Heinrich [Frischmuth, Marcus Hilarius]

(born in Templin, Uckermark, baptized 29 Dec 1669; died in Berlin, buried 25 June 1745). German organist, Kantor and writer. References in his own writings to hearing church music performed in Kyritz (in the Prignitz) and Penzlau suggest that he may have been a student in those towns. Later he studied with Buxtehude's pupil F.G. Klingenberg (from Stettin), organist at the Nikolaikirche in Berlin. Fuhrmann said that in 1690 he took some of his own compositions for examination by his music teacher, M.P. Henningsen, Kantor at the Marienkirche, Berlin. No music by Fuhrmann, however, seems to survive. Later, probably about 1692, he studied in Halle, where he was deeply influenced by the organ virtuosity of F.W. Zachow (Handel's teacher), whom he 'listened to each Sunday with a real hunger and thirst' ("Satans-Capelle," p.55). Fuhrmann visited Leipzig at about this time, working briefly with Schelle on contrapuntal exercises. He stated (ibid., p.52) that in 1694 he became an organist in Soldin. By the next year he had found a post as Kantor in Berlin, where in 1704 he was appointed Kantor at the Friedrich-Werder Gymnasium, a position he retained for the rest of his career.
Fuhrmann was a learned and widely experienced musician and theorist. His views on numerous aspects of contemporary music education, especially practical musicianship, as well as the kaleidoscopic references to the state of sacred and secular music in Germany during the early 18th century, deserve attention. He often praised the excellence of German musicians of his day, and in a far-sighted reference he coined as the three great German Bs: Buxtehude, Bach and Bachelbel (sic!; ibid., p.55). Johann Rosenmüller was 'the alpha and omega musicorum' ("Musicalischer-Trichter," p.41). In comparing the 'world-famous' Bach, whom he had heard play the organ, with the Italian masters Frescobaldi and Carissimi, Fuhrmann concluded that if one placed the art of the two Italians on one scale and that of Bach on the other, the latter would outweigh the former two, sending their scale flying up into the air ("Satans-Capelle," p.32). Fuhrmann had read most of the important theoretical works by German writers of the later 17th and 18th centuries, including Beer, Printz, Kuhnau, Kircher, Neidhardt and Werckmeister. Most of Fuhrmann's books are written in a satirical, frequently obscure style with intricate rhetorical imagery. He probably modelled his prose on the satirical writings of Printz and Kuhnau, to whom he often referred. Fuhrmann's most effusive praise is reserved for 'the two pillars of Apollo's palace on Parnassus' (ibid., p.30), Johann David Heinichen and, above all, Johann Mattheson. The latter, often involved in Fuhrmann's discussions, is characterized as the greatest writer on music of any period. Two of Fuhrmann's works, "Das in unsern Opern-Theatris" and the "Gerechte Wag-Schal," are largely defences of Mattheson in the latter's verbal battle with Joachim Meyer ("Unvorgreiffliche Gedancken über die neulich eingerissene Theatralische Kirchen-Music," 1726), who had condemned the use in churches of cantatas written in the operatic style. Fuhrmann, who expressed reservations about the secular nature of the theatrical style as used in church
music, nevertheless did not adopt the position of some of his contemporaries, who urged the banning of the
operatic style from church music: 'I will not propose that one drive out all cantatas from the church, like dogs, but only those that are rich and fat in the spirit of the opera' ("Satans-Capelle," p.45). However, in the "Satans-Capelle" particularly he attacked the immorality of many opera texts, citing in particular three 'obscene' Hamburg operas by Telemann: "Die verkehrte Welt," "Miriways" and "Der Galan in der Kiste." He also denounced the castrato as a creation of the Devil (ibid., p.39) and criticized the Hamburg opera's reliance on the figure of Harlequin. Among his six books, the most important and best known to his contemporaries was the "Musicalischer-Trichter" (1706). Fuhrmann believed all musicians must be trained in the three branches of musical knowledge: "musica theoretica," the rules of music; "musica practica," the application of the ruleto singing and playing; and "musica poetica," the art of composing. The "Musicalischer-Trichter" is largely an explanation of "musica practica," and in it he gave considerable information concerning the art of singing. He did not, unfortunately, fulfil his promise to write a work on "musica poetica." Of the ten chapters, the seventh ('Von allerhand Manieren welche ein künstlicher Sänger auch verstehen muss') and the eighth ('Von allerhand Vitiis musicis so ein künstlicher Sänger meiden muss') are the most important. In the chapter on manieren, Fuhrmann listed 15 vocal ornaments, illustrating each with music examples. Although some of these are familiar from works such as Printz's Compendium musicae (Dresden, 1689), Fuhrmann's chapter is not simply a restatement. He gave concise and frequently original interpretations for "accento, trill, trilletto, tremolo, tremoletto, variatio, groppo, messanza, passaggio, circulo, tirata, salto, syncopatio, anticipatione della syllaba and anticipatione della nota." In the eighth chapter, dealing with 15 errors common among singers, there are pertinent discussions of voice production, faulty musicianship and over-zealous applications of improvised ornamentation as well as a criticism of grotesque gestures. The work ends with a brief though informative lexicon of musical terms along with definitions of types of vocal and instrumental compositions and various musical instruments. As an appendix, he added his method for teaching students who know the rudiments of music to sight-sing in a series of private lessons taking just three months. Fuhrmann was well acquainted with the contemporary musical scene, and must have travelled even after his Berlin appointment, especially to Hamburg where he heard many opera performances and probably became acquainted with Mattheson. His treatises are a rich and almost untouched source of information for the study of the final decades of the German musical Baroque.

THEORETICAL WORKS
"Musicalischer-Trichter, dadurch ein geschickter Informator seinen Informandis die Edle Singe-Kunst nach heutiger Manier . einbringen kann" (Frankfurt an der Spree, 1706, rev. 2/1715 as "Musica vocalis in nuce, das ist Richtige and völlige Unterweisung zur Singe-Kunst")
"Musicalische Strigel, womit . diejenigen Superlativ-Virtuosen aus der singenden und klingenden Gesellschaft, so nicht Chor-mässig als Künstler die Gräntzen des Apollinis seines musicalischen Reichs, sondern Thor-mässig als Hümpler die Plätze des Apollyonis seiner Music-kahlen Barbarey vermehren" (Athen an der Pleisse, n.d.)
"Das in unsern Opern-Theatris und Comoedien-Bühnen siechende Christenthum und siegende Heidenthum, auf
Veranlassung zweyer wider den musicalischen Patrioten sich empörenden Hamburgischen Theatral-Malcontenten
" (Canterbury, 1728)
"Gerechte Wag-Schal, darin Herrn Joachim Meyers. sogenannte anmasslich Hamburgischer Criticus sine Crisi und dessen Suffragatoris, Herrn Heinr. Guden. Superlativ Suffragium, und Herrn Joh. Matthesons
Göttingischer Ephorus . genau abgewogen
" (Altona, 1728)
"Die an der Kirchen Gottes gebauete Satans-Capelle" (Cologne, 1729)
"Die von den Pforten der Hölle bestürmete, aber vom Himmel beschirmete evangelische Kirche" (Berlin, 1730)

George J. Buelow in Grove Music Online, Oxford
University Press, 2007, acc. 2/11/07

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 12, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Here are two biographies which contain early 18th-century references to the importance of sight-singing. I have not extracted the pertinent passages because the biographies, particularly Fuhrmann's are quite interesting in themselves: >
No one has ever denied the importance of sight-singing to good musicianship. What nearly everyone on this list objects to is the notion that Bach's musicians required no rehearsal and sang his music at first sight.

The outlines of the sources are very interesting but there is nothing in your summaries which indicates that they say anything remotely like what you propose. If anything Fuhrman's work seems to present a comprehensive singing method which places sight-singing in its proper context.

 

Practices regarding rehearsals, sightreading, improvization

Joel Figen wrote (February 17, 2007):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Well, take that reasoning to an obvious next step. I would suggest that it's even more difficult (orders of magnitude more difficult!) for those who haven't had any professional training as organist and harpsichordist to conceive what the conditions then may have been (by not having a clue what actually works in practice!), and then to lecture in public about the proper methods to play or sight-read continuo. >
Brad, I just wanted to jump in and support your claim that realizing a full continuo accompaniment is in general not something to be done at first sight in performance, without rehearsal. I don't have your extreme keyboard skills, to be sure, (though I have some). But I do often have to write continuo realizations for midi performance, and I have to say, it's not something that I could imagine anyone being skilled enough to do very quickly, except in specific cases. In some scores, yes. In general, no. I would even go so far as to say that the non-problematic scores predominate numerically. Some sort of 90/10 rule may apply. It's quite reasonable to accompany recits and chorales without any advance notice, especially if the recit is well figured. For a chorale you can usually just play the choral parts, since that's what the rest of the orchestra is doing. And most big orchestral choruses don't really need anything from the right hand, since every part of the pitch spectrum is well filled with plenty of complexity already. (But they do need to be conducted: a job for the right
hand?)

However, in continuo-only arias, forget it. That's a composition job, not a sight-improv job. At the very least one would have to go over it at home or before the performance. After all, it's Bach you're accompanying, not chopped liver. a simple slice of bread won't do it. So, I agree with you: Despite the fact that someone wrote something about something, what's being claimed is simply unreasonable. (At least I think you said something like that.) Perhaps those writings were apropos of certain specific cantatas that contained no problem movements. Perhaps Bach would have slipped copies of the relatively few problem movements that exist to the continuist in advance, or, perhaps Bach himself moved over to the keyboard at those moments. Or maybe he playedalong on the violin in his hands, leaving the organist freeto just comp a little.

Those sneaked copies wouldn't have survived separately if they were, in fact the actual organ part (that may have survived) or the score, loaned to the continuist in advance. What I'm envisioning is Bach spending some time with the continuist in advance when he realized it would be necessary, and in case that didn't work, playing it himself. This practice would leave no particular textual trace, except perhaps some odd scrawls on surviving organ parts, of which there are plenty, including some wildly absurd figurations, and probably wouldn't have attracted any particular attention at performance time. When the regular organist played a spectacular part, he would be credited with improvisation, and when Bach moved over to the organ, everyone would have known it was the master's improvisation. (This may account for some fairly irrational figures I've seen in a few movements... oops. nothing in bach could be irrational.... not even pi :) So that's rehearsal, but it might have been rather minimal in scope. Indeed, someone may have had the job of delivering the parts to the church. That person might just have been the organist. That would give him time to dream something up.

 

Sight-reading Performances

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 4, 2007):
There are two words in the German language which carry (or did at an earlier time carry) a different connotation reflecting the state of affairs particular to a cetime and place in history:

1. Probe = today can mean both rehearsal as well as a trial or test performance which is the only performance that matters since it functions as an audition attended by critical listeners and functionaries.

Leipzig, Feb. 2, 1723 Die Kantoratsprobe (The Trial/Test/Audition Performance in Seeking the Cantorship)

Bach legte seine Probe ab. (Bach gave a sample of his musicmaking - composition & performance)

Bach machte seine Probe. (Bach performed his audition piece)

(I am including the following because I happened to come across this this morning. It has nothing to do with the two words, but does illustrate that Bach was not very concerned about rehearsing or having practice sessions with the choir students.)

Leipzig, August 2, 1730 Nachlässigkeit im Schuldienst (Bach's negligence, slovenliness in carrying out his school duties)

Der Cantor "halte die Singestunden nicht" (The cantor - Bach - does not conduct the daily choir practice - literally the hour each day set aside for instructing singing with the group of Thomaner)

2. Übungszeiten - This word (normally translated 'Practice times' possibly even 'Rehearsal times' is chosen by the editors of the Bach-Dokumente; however, I am unable to find evidence of this word in the original text. (Was it part of the title or category listed in the original source?) If it really was used this way, then we would have very solid evidence of semantic change to guide us in finding other instances/uses of this word during Bach's lifetime. Until now I had never considered translating the verb 'üben' = 'to practice' in any different way than is customary.

Back-Dokumente II, Item 326:

From the Leipzig Current Events and Address Books 1732 and 1736

The Collegium Musicum -Übungszeiten (Performance{?} Schedule/Times)

The Collegium Musicum 'wird gehalten' ('takes place) in Gottfried Zimmermann's Coffee House on Catherine Street during winter on Fridays from 8 to 10 o'clock in the evening and in summer in Zimmermann's Garden outside of the Grimm City Gate on Wednesday afternoons from 4 to 6 o'clock.

[These are not really rehearsals but the actual performances to which the public is definitely invited. They are not dress rehearsals either since the group is not preparing for another more formal performance here or elsewhere.]

Bach-Dokumnte II, Item 331

Leipzig, June 17, 1733

The Collegium Musicum starts up again and has a new harpsichord

'Es wird der Anfang mit einem schönen Concert gemacht' ('A nice concert will initiate the next series of concerts (after a long break had occurred)') continuing: All music lovers and virtuosi (are the latter allowed unannounced to join in like in a jam session and sight read the music along with the other musicians who regularly attend these sight-reading/performance sessions?) are once again (there had been a cessation of these concerts
(national mourning?) invited to attend.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 4, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
>>1. Probe = today can mean both rehearsal as well as a trial or test performance which is the only performance that matters since it functions as an audition attended by critical listeners and functionaries.<<
I forgot to mention that the Grimm DWB (equivalent to the English large edition OED) first documents the meaning of 'Probe' or 'proben' ('rehearsal' or 'to rehearse' in the sense of rehearsing a play, a piece of music, etc.) from c. 1780 with Goethe and a little later also with Zelter (the latter using this meaning closer to c. 1800).

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 5, 2007):
Apparently Bach in his 20s was such a good sight-reader at the keyboard that he was arrogant about it. And here is Forkel's report about the way he got his come-uppance on it.

NB: This says nothing one way or the other about Bach as soloist, or as member or leader of any ensemble, ever expecting to sight-read any public performances. This is only about Bach privately trying out music at the keyboard to learn it himself, and being a quick study.

"From the easy, unconstrained motion of the fingers, from the beautiful touch, from the clearness and precision in connecting the successive tones, from the advantages of the new mode of fingering, from the equal development and practice of all the fingers of both hands, and, lastly, from the great variety of his figures of melody, which were employed in every piece in a new and uncommon manner, Sebastian Bach at length acquired such a high degree of facility and, we may almost say, unlimited power over his instrument in all the keys that difficulties almost ceased to exist for him. As well in his unpremeditated fantasies as in executing his compositions (in which it is well known that all the fingers of both hands are constantly employed, and have to make motions which are as strange and uncommon as the melodies themselves), he is said to have possessed such certainty that he never missed a note. He had, besides, such an admirable facility in reading and executing the compositions of others (which, indeed, were all easier than his own) that he once said to an acquaintance, while he lived at Weimar, that he really believed he could play everything, without hesitating, at the
first sight. He was, however, mistaken; and the friend to whom he had thus expressed his opinion convinced him of it before a week was passed. He invited him one morning to breakfast and laid upon the desk of his instrument, among other pieces, one which at the first glance appeared to be very trifling. Bach came and, according to his custom, went immediately to the instrument, partly to play, partly to look over the music that lay on the desk. While he was perusing them and playing them through, his host went into the next room to prepare breakfast. In a few minutes Bach got to the piece which was destined for his conversion and began to play it. But he had not proceeded far when he came to a passage at which he stopped. He looked at it, began anew, and again stopped at the same passage. 'No,' he called out to his friend, who was laughing to himself in the next room, and at the same time went away from the instrument, 'one cannot play everything at first sight; it is not possible.'"

"He had an equal facility in looking over scores and executing the substance of them at first sight at the keyboard. He even saw so easily through parts laid side by side that he could immediately play them. This he often did when a friend had received a new trio or quartet for stringed instruments and wished to hear how it sounded. (...)"

[Forkel's biography; pp434-5 of The New Bach Reader.]

=====

Note also in that glowing hagiographic sketch that Bach's "high degree of facility" had been acquired "at length", i.e. through rehearsal and exercise.

Here's another related bit from Forkel's chapter 7, "Bach the Teacher"; p453 of NBR:

"Only he who knows much can teach much. Only he who has become acquainted with dangers, who has himself encountered and overcome them, can properly point them out and successfully teach his followers how to avoid them. Both were united in Bach. His teaching was, therefore, the most instructive, the most proper, and the most secure that ever was known; and all his scholars trod, at least in some one branch of the art, in the footsteps of their great master, though none of them equaled, much less surpassed him."

"I will first speak of his instructions in playing. The first thing he did was to teach his scholars his peculiar mode of touching the instrument, of which we have spoken before. For this purpose, he made them practice, for months together, nothing but isolated exercises for all the fingers of both hands, with constant regard to this clear and clean touch. Under some months, none could get excused from these exercises; and, according to his firm opinion, they ought to be continued, at least, for from six to twelve months. But if he found that anyone, after some months of practice, began to lose patience, he was so obliging as to write little connected pi, in which those exercises were combined together. Of this kind are the six little Preludes for Beginners, and still more the fifteen two-part Inventions. He wrote both down during the hours of teaching and, in doing so,
attended only to the momentary want of the scholar. But he afterwards transformed them into beautiful, expressive little works of art. With this exercise of the fingers, either in single passages or in little pieces composed on purpose, was combined the practice of all the ornaments in both hands."

 

Bach's keyboard facility in sight-reading

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (March 6, 2007):
I have had many experiences over the years that let me believe singing and playing at first sight pieces of Bach's caliber is not only possible, but happens today on a regular basis. And I'm sure Bach was the best of the best. This is the same guy who used to improvise fugues. Remember Chopin, Mozart and Liszt's improvisation abilities? And experts tell us that virtuosity on the piano is at the highest level, today, than it has been in the last hundred years.

I have sung in a community choir for the past 5 years, but my most enduring memory is the accompaniest we hired for one fall season when our normal one was not available. She was only 23 and was a concert major pianist college student who had aspirations of being a teacher. She needed money and so we hired her. We were doing Handel's Messiah that season. We were using the Schirmer edition with the orchestra reduction for piano accompaniment. Anyone who has seen this accompaniment knows that it is rather difficult for an experienced
accompaniest to play without mistakes even if they have practiced it for beforehand.

She had never seen the music before and was only vaguely familiar with the piece itself, except for the Halleluia chorus. I am a former piano player and believe me when I say, she sat down and immediately played the music at tempo without any mistakes and with dynamics. I was certifiably amazed. I had a solo later in the night and she asked me what speed I wanted AND what key! This was on a piano... I still to this day look back at that (she must have been an angel) girl who so easily sight read and transposed piano music.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 6, 2007):
Jeremy Vosburgh wrote:
< I still to this day look back at that (she must have been an angel) girl who so easily sight read and transposed piano music. >
But isn't that exactly the point? She was unusual, and memorable.

No one is questioning the unusual, dare I say miraculous, sight reading skills of Bach. It is his students' abilities which come under discussion.

 

Sight Reading

Jeremy Vosburgh wrote (June 12, 2007):
I have no problem believing that people sight read Bach's music very well first time.

My limited experience with an Episcopal church has been a 30 minute single run through of all the songs once followed by the performance. The songs are usually new every week and are an assortment of Psalms, anthems, hymns, etc. I consider myself a bad sight reader. If an amateur choir can sing Anglican anthems after a single run through, I would think Bach's full-time musicians and singers would be able to sing his music rather well first time through. I think that part of the problem with some of today's choral performers is that many singers and musicians perform seasonal fixed programs. They also typically perform set programs multiple times. In this case sight reading would not even be needed. Performing up to ten different new choral numbers every week seems to be a thing of the past except for some church choirs. It would certainly facilitate the need for sight reading and if these were the types of conditions that all these singers and musicians were trained under, it would make sense that they all became quite adept at sight reading.

I am reminded of the anecdote I heard about Handel doing a run through of Messiah before a performance using local singers. He blew his top because some of the singers weren't able to read at FIRST sight. Of interest is one of the singer's defense, which was that he could sight read, just not the first time.... :) Handel was not amused. I doubt Bach would've been either; especially since he worked with the same people week to week.

 

Rifkin and sight-reading

Uri Golomb wrote (June 12, 2007):
Actually, one more place where Rifkin speaks about the experience of doing things very quickly is in the notes to the re-issue of his 1960s album "The Baroque Beatles Book" -- a set of Baroque-style pieces (an orchestral suite, a cantata, a trio sonata and a set of keyboard variations) based on Beatles songs. The pieces are so idiomatically written for Baroque instruments that they would have sounded better on period instruments. (The recording used modern instruments -- hardly surprising at a time when there were few or no period-instrument ensembles in America; but I understand that Rifkin still performs some of these pieces occasionally -- with period instruments; he even does the cantata -- which he wrote for a choir -- with one-per-part vocal forces).

Anyway, here is how he describes the work process:

Unbelievably—at least from today's perspective, where it can take months just to get a drum sound—the album was arranged, recorded, packaged, and in the shops within five weeks of conception. "We had to do this very fast," Rifkin emphasizes. "Jac was absolutely persuaded that if he had the idea, someone else would get it as well, so we had to strike first. So basically I embarked on a schedule of writing ten to eighteen hours a day. As I got scores ready, we had a very fine, established Broadway copying agency, one that turned out musicals and stuff like that, more or less waiting on my every move, picking up the music pretty much the minute it left my hands, taking it and copying out parts so that we could go right to the studio with it. One of the things I learned from this was a kind of hands-on sense of what it was like for Bach, Handel, or people like that to turn out music at the incredible pace at which they worked, also with a team of copyists waiting on their every move. I had just started graduate school, squeezing this all in between seminars in which I was studying things like eighteenth-century music, and here I was pretty much back into an eighteenth-century situation! " (from: http://www.richieunterberger.com/rifkin.html ).

Almost sounds like sight-reading -- but recall that he said "so that we could go right to the studio with it". At this pace, there probably wasn't time for extensive editing, but they did get a chance to correct any mistakes that might have hapenned (the copyists' as well as their own). Perhaps the equivalent, then, of having one or two rehearsals before the concert. That's also the situation he describes in the Sherman interview: "a rehearsal basically meant a read-through [... the musicians] read [the new piece of music] one or twice through, play it more or less flawlessly with a sense of its basic stylistic assumptions, and then go home". In other words, the sight-reading took place at rehearsal. Having even one rehearsal is still different than sight-reading at the performance. (This doesn't mean that sight-reading-at-performance never happened; but it's one thing to talk about it happening sometimes, quite another to talk about it as being a matter of course. One of the many, many differences between Rifkin's situation with the Beatles album and Bach's with his cantatas is that Rifkin didn't know in advance that he'd be asked to do this project -- it all came together quite suddenly; whereas Bach had ample advance warning).

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 12, 2007):
You can only sight read once!

< Q. If you have an opportunity to read a score before the 1st performance but have no opportunity to play/sing it, when you play/sing it for the first time are you still sight rea?
I think I'm looking for a definition of "sight reading" is it reading or simultaneously reading and playing/singing (for the 1st time)? Could it ever be for a subsequent time if you've completely forgotten that you had played it before and don't remember it when you see it again? >
I would think it's about doing some entirely new piece that one has never seen, played, or heard before. Coming to it totally cold, with no advance clues about tempo or balance or tricky spots. Eyes glued to the page, and not much opportunity to see the conductor (if any), other than with peripheral vision.

Total memory loss might count, maybe.

This weekend I sat in on a rehearsal (mostly just a play-through) of the Bach D minor concerto for two violins. This was for the opening concert of a Bach festival, Sunday afternoon. It was an orchestra of all professionals, and they had three rehearsals of this piece: Friday night, Saturday morning (the one I heard), and Saturday afternoon dress run. They asked me for comments about balance/articulation listening from different points in the hall, on Saturday morning, and they also used my suggestion to move the stage shell closer to the musicians for clearer projection. The Saturday morning rehearsal was a pretty clean run-through, although they tried a couple of spots twice.

I'd consider that none of this was sight-reading, but at least half of this preparatory work was necessary to do before the concert. I don't know if they really needed (or used) the third rehearsal or not.

- The whole orchestra had heard the piece before, many times, and some had probably already played it. "Every" string player at least knows the Bach Double, by sound!

- The two solo violinists had practiced it for weeks or months ahead. Maybe some of the others at least looked at it. Everybody played it without noticeable problems, other than just getting warmed up.

- There's nothing really tricky to coordinate, ensemble-wise in this piece, other than starting and stopping the movements reasonably together.

- Cleanly printed parts, not handwritten copies; and already checked for accuracy by the publisher.

- These professional musicians (serious adult players, most of them full-time musicians) did three run-through rehearsals before the performance, and they still played pretty straightforwardly in the Sunday performance: nothing fancy interpretively, and it's not a particularly hard piece to do decently.

- At least in the rehearsal I heard, it wasn't about working on nuances, but just "playing in" the piece to sound like an ensemble, rather than 15 scattered musicians who hadn't played together since last year's festival.

- On Sunday, between the tuning and the performance, the leader took my tuning fork backstage (this had been used for the harpsichord), so she and the other soloist could tune to it exactly, and then walk out and play without further onstage tuning.

- Some of the players were still doing warmups or checking spots, backstage or downstairs on Sunday, before going on to play the piece. That practicing obviously couldn't happen if anybody was sight-reading onstage....

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 12, 2007):
< (...) his 1960s album "The Baroque Beatles Book" -- a set of Baroque-style pieces (an orchestral suite, a cantata, a trio sonata and a set of keyboard variations) based on Beatles songs. (...) he even does the cantata -- which he wrote for a choir -- with one-per-part vocal forces). >
The cantata for the Sunday After Shea Stadium! (Or "Third Sunday After"...I don't remember.)

I wish that album would make it to CD. I just had the cassette edition, with no program notes.... Good to hear some of this background about the project, thanks.

It's interesting that Rifkin is (presumably) doing the piece now with one per part for musical/practical reasons, and not necessarily to be faithful to his own original conception of it with a bigger group. It's his own piece, and he could do whatever he wants, given the hiring of adequate personnel!

Not to say that one would have to do exactly the same thing in studio vs concert, anyway, since as you pointed out it's a different musical environment. Glenn Gould, among others, was adamant that a studio performance and a concert gig needn't even resemble one another as to the interpretive choices made.

Uri Golomb wrote (June 12, 2007):
Brad Lehman wrote:
"I wish that album would make it to CD. I just had the cassette edition, with no program notes.... Good to hear some of this background about the project, thanks."
Actually, it did make it to CD -- I have it in front of me. See details on: http://www.ccmusic.com/item.cfm?itemid=CCM06842

And it's the cantata for the 3rd Saturday after Shea Stadium, MBE 38.000.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 12, 2007):
[To Uri Golomb] Curses on behalf of my wallet; that page made me go listen to the Even Dozen Jug Band too, to hear Rifkin's still earlier work.

The other thing about mid-1960s neo-Baroque authenticity that intrigues me: the way the harmonica players did sustained recitative accompaniment in PDQ Bach's (Peter Schickele's) "Bluegrass Cantata".

Ed Myskowski wrote (June 13, 2007):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< Actually, one more place where Rifkin speaks about the experience of doing things very quickly is in the notes to the re-issue of his 1960s album "The Baroque Beatles Book"
[...]
Anyway, here is how he describes the work process:
Unbelievably-at least from today's perspective, where it can take months just to get a drum sound-the album was arranged, recorded, packaged, and in the shops within five weeks of conception. "We had to do this very fast,"
Rifkin emphasizes. "Jac was absolutely persuaded that if he had the idea, someone else would get it as well, so we had to strike first. >
Nothing like a bit of 'economic incentive' (OK, greed) to create a sense of urgency. Do you suppose Bach's theology was also tempered by worldly concerns?

< taking it and copying out parts so that we could go right to the studio with it. One of the things I learned from this was a kind of hands-on sense of what it was like for Bach, Handel, or people like that to turn out music at the incredible pace at which they worked, also with a team of copyists waiting on their every move. >
Key phrases: hands-on sense, incredible pace, team of copyists.

< "a rehearsal basically meant a read-through [... the musicians] read [the new piece of music] once or twice through, play it more or less flawlessly with a sense of its basic stylistic assumptions, and then go home". >
With the opportunity to think about it, at home! Perhaps even practice a bit? I have lost track, did those old Germans practice, to acquire and/or reinforce their sight reading skills? Or was it inherent, something we have lost in the course of de-evolution, from that point at which humanity purportedly reached its peak of music performance ability.

< In other words, the sight-reading took place at rehearsal. Having even one rehearsal is still different than sight-reading at the performance. (This doesn't mean that sight-reading-at-performance never happened; but it's one thing to talk about it happening sometimes, quite another to talk about it as being a matter of course. >
Not to mention the relative quality of the performances, sight-read versus prepared. You never know what scrap of paper will turn up, requiring new evaluations. Grad students rejoice, unpredictable employment opportunities abound.

Or to put it another way, where there is a willing grad student, new evidence is likely to appear.

 

Article: sight reading

Continue of discussion from: Bach’s Time - Part 3 [General Topics]

Julian Mincham wrote (February 14, 2012):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Boys were enjoined to sing the Sunday's chorales during the previous week.
Placing a huge question mark on the notion that Bachs cantatas mighthave been sight-read at first performanc >

I think it virtually certain that the boys knew the chorale repertoire so well that they could pull out any one and perform it without notice. Many of the difficult and taxing arias and choruses would not be known to them however and they would, I think, be rather a different matter. Bach himself stated in writing (see New Bach Reader) that his music was more demanding that what they had previously been used to.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 14, 2012):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I think it virtually certain that the boys knew the chorale repertoire so well that they could pull out any one and perform it without notice. Many of the difficult and taxing arias and choruses would not be known to them however and they would, I think, be rather a different matter. Bach himself stated in writing (see New Bach Reader) that his music was more demanding that what they had previously been used to >
The double-choir motets required every Sunday were also demanding works even if they had been performed the year before. This eight part "Jubilate Deo" by Gabrieli from the Bodenschatz collection was not unusual for Bach's choir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCRm2t2tpB0
(Not a great performance by St. Thomas' rival in Saxony, the Kreuzchor of Dresden)

Even a professional choir today would be hard-pressed to perform the motet without rehearsal.

What we don't know is how rehearsals were structured in Bach's time. The school's regulations speak of using free time for practising. It may have been the custom for each boy to rehearse on his own, probably with mentoring from the prefectsts, and then come together for a final run-through with Bach. It's hard to imagine Bach note-bashing in the corporate style of modern choir rehearsals. The slog work must have been done by the prefects. If OVPP was the norm, then there may have been intensive individual rehearsal with final fine-tuning by Bach for the cantatas.

Alas, it's all undocumented speculation.

William Hoffman wrote (February 14, 2012):
[To Douglas Cowling] Note bashing today also is called "taken to the woodshed" or "woodshedding." It appears that there was a long-standing effort to downgrade the demands on the Thomas choirs, that Bach resisted, to become a more enlightened, liberal arts institution, perhaps preparatory to university studies for some students.

I still think that Bach ceased composing chorale cantatas for the Easter-Pentecost season 1725 in part because of the demands to rehearse chorale fantasias, shown by his ceasing to composed every week and creating solo cantatas in the third cycle as well as easier works of Johann Ludwig Bach and the two Stoezel cycles. Bach's only major concession to demanding music was the St. Matthew Passion, after which he presented the easier St. Mark, St. Luke and Stoezel Passions. At the same time, I think Bach also was influenced by the pressure to have simpler poetic lyrics set to music but I rely on Peter Smaill for this perspective.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 14, 2012):
William Hoffman wrote:
< I still think that Bach ceased composing chorale cantatas for the Easter-Pentecost season 1725 in part because of the demands to rehearse chorale fantasias, shown by his ceasing to composed every week and creating solo cantatas in the third cycle as well as easier works of Johann Ludwig Bach and the two Stoezel cycles. >
I have always wondered at the great variance of difficulty in the opening chorus of the Bach cantatas. Some are blisteringly demanding, others so easy as to require little in preparation. In some cases, the differences are so great as to make me wonder if they were written for the same choir. It would be interesting to assign a difficulty level to the opening chorus of each cantata as we went along to see if any patterns emerged.

I'm not convinced that the composition of solo cantatas has a causal link to choral problems. The "Vox Christi" cantatas of the Easter season which all eschew an opening chorus seems to be a aesthetic decision not driven by practical considerations. Agreed that the J.L. Bach and Stoezel choruses are not as difficult, but they and the weekly motets still require concentrated effort. I remember singing Ludwig's motet, "Das ist meine Freude" and being surprised that although it looked quite benign on the page, it turned out to be quite a tricky sing.

A work like the St. Matthew Passion could not have been sprung on a choir which did not sing demanding music on a regular basis.

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 14, 2012):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Note bashing today also is called "taken to the woodshed" or "woodshedding." >
*Note bashing* is a term new to me, but *woodshedding* is a familiar jazz term, perticularly for sax players, I believe, as in: <Go practice in the woodshed, its too loud in here.> For the ultimate analog, see the Sonny Rollins classic album <The Brdige>, when Rollins walked out from his Brooklyn(?) digs to practice on the bridge.

Ed Price wrote (February 15, 2012):
[To Ed Myskowski] Sorry for verging off-topic but I'll delurk briefly to say:

I've never heard the term "note-bashing" before myself either, although I'm quite familiar with the term "woodshedding".

Re Sonny Rollins, it seems he was living in Manattan, not Brooklyn, at that time...

See "How did you end up practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge?" in the Sonny Rollins FAQ :)
http://www.sonnyrollins.com/faq.php

Mahalo,
-(a different) Ed (who does live in Brooklyn!)

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 15, 2012):
Ed Price wrote:
< I've never heard the term "note-bashing" before myself either, although I'm quite familiar with the term "woodshedding".
Re Sonny Rollins, it seems he was living in Manattan, not Brooklyn, at that time...
See "How did you end up practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge?" in the Sonny Rollins FAQ :)
http://www.sonnyrollins.com/faq.php >
Mahalo as well, for the illuminating detail, and correction. Can we find a connection between Newk (Rollins other nickname), and Bach?

Ed Myskowski wrote (February 15, 2012):
Newk and Bach [was: Article: sight reading]

Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Can we find a connection between Newk (Rollins other nickname), and Bach? >
A bit of a stretch, but see this fine article by Gene Santoro: http://theamericanscholar.org/the-edgy-optimist/

including:

<Live, Rollins remains a creative cauldron, a saxophone Bach able to overcome mediocre concepts and flagging bands with his fugues.>

 

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