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Trombones in Bach’s Vocal Works

Trombones in the cantatas

Neil Halliday wrote (October 7, 2003):
Robertson says, of BWV 25 ("Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe"):

"This is one of three instances known, in the cantatas, in which the trombones are used other than with the voices."

Does anyone know off-hand what the other two cantatas are? (There are 3 trombones in BWV 25).

(Needless to say, in the light of the subject matter, the hair-raising nature of this opening chorus, as captured on Rilling's recording, with the elemental 'shrieks' or 'grunts' from the trombones, is thrilling, to say the least.)

Bob Henderson wrote (October 7, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] Trombones (from the Concerto Palatino) are used (to wonderful effect) in at least three Suzuki recordings: BWV 25 and BWV 64, Volum 13 and the Leipzig version of BWV 21, Volume 12.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 7, 2003):
[To Neil Halliday] BWV 4 is one.

Neil Halliday wrote (October 7, 2003):
[To Bob Henderson & Aryeh Oron] Thanks, Bob H. and Aryeh.

I think we have 2 of them - BWV 21 and BWV 25.

But BWV 4 and BWV 64 appear to have the trombones colla parte with the voices; there are quite a few instances of this, I think (still very effective, ofcourse.)

I'll do a bit more research on this matter later.

Peter Bright wrote (October 7, 2003):
[To Bob Henderson] Yes - that movement from BWV 21 (soli/chorus, track 19) on the Suzuki disc, when the trombones come in towards the end is one of my favourite moments in all of Bach.

Bob Henderson wrote (October 7, 2003):
[To Peter Bright] Yes! The trombones lend the perfect dark colour to a rather dark but beautiful work!

Alex Riedlmayer wrote (October 7, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I think we have 2 of them - BWV 21 and BWV 25. >
Only one. The trombones in "Sei nun wieder zufrieden" play directly under the chorus, which I would prefer not be Suzuki's.

 

Cornetti and Trombones

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 4 - Discussions Part 3

Doug Cowling wrote (January 25, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< #2. This is a polished performance. Whereas Harnoncourt's recording features the cornetto with the C.F., Suzuki's features the trombones with the lower voices, an attractive feature. Tempo is brisk. But speaking of polish or rather, lack of it, I suspect I would enjoy Ehmann's recording more, if I could get hold of it. (That recording also features the trombones). >
In which other cantatas does Bach use the old-fashioned cornetto (as opposed to the trumpet) and trombones? The only one that comes to mind is Cantata BWV 25, "Es is nichts Gesundes" which has the unusual ensemble of three flutes in unsion, cornetto and three trombones playing the "Passion Chorale". In that cantata, which deals rather obsessively with mortality, it occurred to me that the cornetto and trombone consort may be intended to suggest a funeral procession passing -- cornetti and trombones were played by civic waits. Does the doubling in Cantata BWV 4 have the same funereal conotation? The doubling certainly isn't necessary because the voices are inadequate -- Bach wouldn't have written them that way if he didn't have the voices. I've also wondered whether the"antique" sonority of unison recorders and divided gambas in Cantata 106 had a similar funeral symbolism.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 25, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
"In which other cantatas does Bach use the old-fashioned cornetto (as opposed to the trumpet) and trombones?"
this is the page you want, to answer that question.
http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~wfb/cantatas/minst1.html

(The link, at the bottom, to the main web-site, should be in the 'favourites' folder of all Bach cantata enthusiasts.)

No doubt there are quite a few movements with trombones there.

For me, the trombones in BWV 4 are more expressive of the 'transcendental' rather than the 'funereal', because the vitality and power of the opening chorus seem inconsistent with a funeral.

No, the trombones are not entirely necessary for a successful perfomance. Both Werner and Rilling give very impressive, powerful performances without them, emphasing other aspects of the chorus (or the trombones are inaudible, if they are there).

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 25, 2005):
< No, the trombones are not entirely necessary for a successful perfomance. >
Trombone consorts (plus strings) went right through into Viennese and Salzburg church-music practice, 1770s and later.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 25, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Trombone consorts (plus strings) went right through into Viennese and Salzburg church-music practice, 1770s and later. >
It's interesting to watch how standard colla parte doublings in the early masses of Mozart move towards independent trombone parts in the Mass in C Minor. The choruses of the priests in Magic Flute owe much to this convention.

Neil Halliday wrote (January 26, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
<"It's interesting to watch how standard colla parte doublings in the early masses of Mozart move towards independent trombone parts in the Mass in C Minor".>
At least one Bach cantata has independent parts for trombones (Robertson claims three, but I cannot locate the other two), ie, the one you mentioned, BWV 25/1. These parts are essential, of course, unlike the situation in BWV 4 in which trombones merely double the choral ATB parts; in this latter situation, a convincing performance of the music can be made without the doubling instruments (although they can be a very attractive feature if they are present, as in Suzuki and Ehmann. Richter has them too, but the frequent staccato articulation reduces the trombones' impact.)

Neil Halliday wrote (January 26, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
"Richter has them too, but the frequent staccato articulation reduces the trombones' impact.)"
This comment applies to BWV 4's opening chorus. Perhaps I should have also mentioned the final chorale; here, Richter does capture some of the 'transcendental magnificence' of the trombones, especially in the second half, where you can hear the trombones 'blasting away' in the background.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 26, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< This comment applies to BWV 4's opening chorus. Perhaps I should have also mentioned the final chorale; here, Richter does capture some of the 'transcendental magnificence' of the trombones, especially in the second half, where you can hear the trombones 'blasting away' in the background. >
Renaissance and Baroque trombones make a completely different sound from 19th century instruments. They were used in choral music in the Reniassece and early Baroque because their focused flexible sound was often compared to human verses. Listen to 17 th c. Venetian canzona for 4 solo strings and 4 solo trombones on the McCreesh's recreation of "Music for San Rocco" and you will be astonished to hear the brass in total balance with the strings. The cornetto and trombones in Cantata BWV 4 are the tailend of this "vocal" tradition and should not be expected to provide a huge Romantic sound.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 26, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>Renaissance and Baroque trombones make a completely different sound from 19th century instruments. They were used in choral music in the Reniassece and early Baroque because their focused flexible sound was often compared to human verses. Listen to 17 th c. Venetian canzona for 4 solo strings and 4 solo trombonon the McCreesh's recreation of "Music for San Rocco" and you will be astonished to hear the brass in total balance with the strings. The cornetto and trombones in Cantata 4 are the tailend of this "vocal" tradition and should not be expected to provide a huge Romantic sound.<<
While I agree that there will, through differences in construction, be a difference between the quality of sound made by Renaissance and Baroque trombones compared to those of the 19th century and thereafter, I am beginning to think that the 'Posaunen' described by Praetorius and the 'sackbuts' of the earlier centuries were nevertheless louder than what you have described from what you hear on a McCreesh recording. The historical descriptions of the sound of these older, period instruments are few and far between. Can you supply any reference to a work from this early time which gives a description of what these instruments sounded like back then?

Also, I am having difficulty establishing the use of trombones as funereal instruments in Bach's time or before. True, trombones do relate to the archaic motet-style mvts. of Bach, but these are not necessarily compositions for funerals. It would appear to me that the association of trombones with funerals is primarily post-Bach. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (January 26, 2005):
< It would appear to me that the association of trombones with funerals is primarily post-Bach. Do you have any evidence to the contrary? >
The clear use of trombones in the Death March in Händel's Saul is a strong example...

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 26, 2005):
< While I agree that there will, through differences in construction, be a difference between the quality of sound made by Renaissance and Baroque trombones compared to those of the 19th century and thereafter, I am beginning to think that the 'Posaunen' described by Praetorius and the 'sackbuts' of the earlier centuries were nevertheless louder than what you have described from what you hear on a McCreesh recording. The historical descriptions of the sound of these older, period instruments are few and far between. Can you supply any reference to a work from this early time which gives a description of what these instruments sounded like back then? >
Why guess? Why not just ask people who really play these? Here's contact info for a Washington group that I've played with: http://www.earlymusic.net/WCSE/
Ask them what they do and how they do their jobs, picking which instruments to bring for which gigs. As I recall, the pieces we played were 17th century works with about 4 to 20 singers, and these guys on their cornetti/sackbutts/trombones, and me on organ. No balance problems at all. Some polychoral pieces, some not. We played in a fairly large church in Virginia, and the audience didn't have trouble hearing anybody. The cornetti and 'bones blend with voices very easily. What's the problem here?

And there are other such groups around.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 27, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Why guess?<< >>What's the problem here?<<
I just found most of what I was looking for in Anthony C. Baines/Arnold Myers and Trevor Herbert's article on the trombone in the Grove Music Online [Oxford University Press, 2004, acc. 1/26/05]

Although the connection to Bach is not documented (as far as deliberate funereal use of trombones), there is a wealth of information from this article worth sharing. What seems to be missing is the strong tradition of Stadtpfeiffer who were called upon in many cities and towns throughout the 17th and beginning 18th centuries to play 'Turmmusik' ['Tower music'] (Pezel and Reiche contributed compositions here, but the simple playing of 4- or 5- pt. Chorales from the towers of churches involved among other brass instruments the trombones as well. These must have been anything but a 'stille Posaune.')

The answer in the following article seems to be that there were at least two different ways of playing trombones: loudly or softly. Praetorius, in his 'Syntagma musicum' refers to the 'stille Posaune' (the quiet/soft trombone as if it were a special form of trombone instrument to be preferred when playing in small ensembles with violins, etc., this would mean that the regular 'Posaune' was the type a listener can hear in McCreesh's Epiphany Service (on Archiv at the end of the long 'In dulci jubilo.')

Here are some important excerpts from the article mentioned above:

>>The best modern reproductions replicate not only the measurements of early specimens, but also the manufacturing processes by which they were made. Such instruments provide an insight into the world of early players, and allow scholars to make sense of primary-source evidence. They show that early trombones were versatile: not only could they be played in a number of settings, but they were able to produce two distinct types of sound. When these instruments are blown loudly, the sound is brassy and strident. The abundant references to trombones being combined with shawms and trumpets for fanfares and other loud outdoor music suggest that they were often heard in this mode. [I found evidence elsewhere - not what is indicated in the Medici reference below - that trombones were used for a royal wedding ceremony - no notion of death here.] Mersenne commented that this type of trombone playing was 'deemed vicious and unsuitable for concerts', but (although his utterances are not without ambiguity in this respect) he had probably heard instruments played in this way. However, modern reproductions show that early trombones were easy to play quietly; when played in this manner they produce a restrained, suave, clearly focussed sound, capable of subtle articulation and inflection, that even remains focussed in the lively acoustics of a church. [This is what Doug Cowling was referring to.] It is this mode of expression that was the most common in the 16th and 17th centuries. The sound is well matched with that of the cornett: a partnership between the two instruments was established by the early part of the 16th century and continued until the closing decades of the 17th. The two instruments were superbly suited; they had wide and complementary pitch compasses, and broad dynamic and expressive ranges. They were natural accompanists for choral music, and players of them were employed in ecclesiastical foundations across Europe. While trombonists were employed with cornett players in court, church and civic ensembles, single instruments were also used in broken consorts. Praetorius's observation that the English had a predilection for a single quiet trombone ("eine stille Posaune") in consort music is confirmed by other sources, and many pictorial representations show trombones in the company of various wind and string instruments. Praetorius and Mersenne recognized the trombone as one of the instruments on which it was possible and appropriate to play diminutions and other decorations. Because many trombonists also played other instruments, it is likely that the majority were not only technically capable of playing such embellishments, but had a fine sense of what was tasteful and appropriate..

Some of the 'cori spezzati' effects which Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli seem to specify for the Venetian players exploit this idiomatic feature, and similar sonorities dominate the trombone writing of Heinrich Schütz, the marvellously sculptured writing in 'Fili mi Absalon' ('Symphoniae sacrae,' 1629) being a superb example. It is probably from this type of sonority rather than from the sound of the single instrument that the symbolic association of trombones with death, the underworld and other dark features of the emotional spectrum derives; while it is difficult to determine the exact point from which such meanings originate, it is certain that these associations were well understood by the start of the 17th century. Monteverdi's dramatic use of a large trombone ensemble in 'Orfeo' seems to follow an established convention, and similar passages are found, for example, in the mufor the Florentine 'intermedi' performed for the Medici wedding celebrations of 1589. [Funereal music for a wedding!!!] This symbolism seems to have been understood elsewhere as well: a stage direction for the first performance in London of Beaumont and Fletcher's 'The Mad Lover' (1616) calls for 'A dead march within, of Drums and Sagbuts'..

But towards the end of the 17th century, the trombone began to fall out of use in many European centres where it had been an established feature of musical life for almost two centuries. The evidence for this descent is quite unambiguous: records show a decline and then a halt in payments to players who had regularly received them. The same types of source also show that players who had long been associated with the trombone were transferred to other instruments. In England the decline was particularly complete: not a shred of evidence suggests that there was a single native-born trombone player in the country for the entire 18th century, and an inventory of goods at Canterbury Cathedral refers to a chest in which are kept 'two brass Sackbuts not us'd for a grete number of years past'. Trombones were used for the first performances of Händel's 'Israel in Egypt' and 'Saul' in 1739, but they must have been played by foreigners. Their use a few years later at a benefit for the trumpeter Valentine Snow was deemed sufficiently unusual to be featured in advertisements. When they were reintroduced for the 1784 Händel Commemoration, a member of the audience annotated his programme with the observation that they looked something like 'bassoons with an end like a large speaking trumpet'.

There are several reasons why the instrument fell from use. The most obvious is a change in taste which favoured more homogeneous sonorities, particularly after the fashion of the string orchestra of the French court. Another is the decline in the practice of doubling vocal lines with cornetts and trombones; because this was a primary function of the instrument, trombones were less needed when that practice became less favoured. [Perhaps the size of the choirs generally was increasing and the additional support was no longer necessary?] In Austria, however, the practice of doubling vocal lines with trombones survived. As late as 1790 Albrechtsberger complained of 'trombones written in unison with alto, tenor or bass voice'. It was in Austria and Germany, especially in Vienna, that the trombone survived as a church and theatre instrument. Many sacred choral works contain trombone obbligatos, and there is a small but attractive solo repertory. It is no accident that it was here, in the hands of Gluck and Mozart, that the earliest developments of the modern idiom took place. In the mid-18th century the trombone was still used principally in church music (particularly for doubling the lower voices) and in small ensembles: it did not become a part of the orchestra until the late 18th century. The instrument maintained strong associations with the underworld or the supernatural. The use of a trio of trombones - alto, tenor and bass - appears to date from the beginning of the modern phase of trombone usage in the late 18th century, when the instrument was increasingly used in orchestral and band music. The widespread use of the trombone is a result of the burgeoning of wind bands and brass bands in the mid-19th century in towns, villages and workplaces all over Europe and North America. Gluck wrote for a trio of alto, tenor and bass (e.g. in the oracle scene of Alceste), as did Gossec, who also scored for a single trombone joined to a bass part. Mozart used trombones only in his operas and sacred works; his dramatic use of the instrument is particularly well exemplified by the supper scene of Don Giovanni, and he provided a notorious solo for the instrument in the 'Tuba mirum' of the Requiem (not without precedent in his earlier church music). In Germany the reorganization of military bands gave the trombone the role of strengthening the bass line, although the trio was maintained in large infantry bands as well as in the orchestra.<<

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 27, 2005):
Responding to Doug Cowling on Jan. 26, 2005, Thomas Braatz wrote:
"Also, I am having difficulty establishing the use of trombones as funereal instruments in Bach's time or before. True, trombones do relate to the archaic motet-style mvts. of Bach, but these are not necessarily compositions for funerals. It would appear to me that the association of trombones with funerals is primarily post-Bach. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?"
MY COMMENTS:

Take a look at BWV 118, which was discussed previously in 2001 and 2004. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Guide/BWV118-Guide.htm.

This motet was written by Bach for a funeral. The original score was for the outdoor burial, and featured sackbuts (ancestor of the trombone), cornetts (Zinks), litui, and organ. Later it was transcribed for indoor use employing strings, oboes, litui, bassoon and continuo.

There is a good recording of the first version of BWV 118 by His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts using period instruments. It's included on the fantastic CD, A Bach Album, Hyperion Records Ltd, London, England CDA67247; 0-34571-17247-7.

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 27, 2005):
Thanks to Thomas Braatz for the extensive references on the history of trombone usage (his Jan. 26, 2005 posting).

I was intrigued by the soft versus loud playing descriptions. When played with a high rate of air flow, any brass instrument exudes a loud, brassy and coarse tone. When played with a low rate of air flow, that same instrument takes on a soft tone texture. Is this what was being described by loud and soft playing in the 17th and 18th century?

Another possibility is a difference in the bore of the instrument. For modern instruments, large bores produce a greater volume of sound and are great for marching bands. Smaller bores yield a smaller sound volume useful in chamber music. Is there historical evidence that soft playing was typical of the instrument bore rather than how much air the trombonist pushed through the instrument? Were there two different instrument bores in use?

Doug Cowling wrote (January 27, 2005):
Funeral Cornetti and Trombones

[To Dale Gedcke] Thank you very much for pointing out this work. I had no idea that Bach wrote such a piece. The use of cornetti and sackbuts would certainly make sense at an august interment where the waits played. That unique sonority makes me think that the trombone band in Cantata BWV 25 is meant to suggest an outdoor funeral consort. So too their use in Cantata BWV 4. The closing chorale with the voices doubled by the brass might well have been intended by Bach to suggest Christ's triumph over death.

The opening of BWV is quite interesting: a low pedal-point with rising lines in expressive suspensions. A resemblance to the opening of the SMP (BWV 244)? -- "Kommt Ihr Tochter" as funeral march?

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 27, 2005):
Dale Gedcke wrote:
>>Is there historical evidence that soft playing was typical of the instrument bore rather than how much air the trombonist pushed through the instrument? Were there two different instrument bores in use?<<
It does not seem to be the case. Check out Baines' measurements of original instruments from museums:

On p. 113, Anthony Baines "Brass Instruments: Their History and Development" [Dover, 1976-1995] gives the following:

Measurements in mm.

Name of Maker/Date
Diameters: Max. Depth/Cup Depth/Throat Depth of Cup

Alto Trombone
Birckholtz, 1695 33; 21; 8; 12.5

Tenor Trombone
A. Schnitzer, 1579 37, 23.2, 8.2, 13.9
I. Ehe, 1612 37.5, 24, 8, 21

Bass Trombone
Colbert, 1593 41, 25, ---, 18.3
Richard, 1607 43, 28, 9, 20.5
I. Ehe 1616 43, 28, 8, 20

Continuing on p. 114, probably written in 1976, Baines proposes his theory which attempts to establish the eof a strong tradition that existed over centuries:

>>The playing qualities of well-preserved examples have often been judged by modern players to be excellent: harmonics in tune, and good even tone over the compass required by the parts. Altos and tenors have effortless high notes, basses are full and resonant. One can readily understand how these full-compass and intonation-perfect instruments were rated so high among the wind instruments of the time, and the massive reliance upon them by the Gabrielis in Venice and their pupils in Germany. At the same time they also became curiously cast in roles of death and lament, and by extension the Shades of Hades, which has endured from Monteverdi and Schütz up to funeral marches in Belgian villages today, and must have arisen through subconscious atavism for brass instruments had not been very noticeably associated with funerals since Rome.<<

In contrast to Baines' stress placed upon the funeral connection, the MGG article on trombones by Georg Karstädt and Ulrich Prinz's article in the "Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach" [Oxford University Press, 1999] make no mention of such a strong connection between trombones and funerals (neither do Praetorius or Walther.)

Here is the article by Ulrich Prinz:

>>trombone (Posaune). A brass instrument existing in various sizes and pitches, used by Bach in his church music. The trombone already had a slide in the 15th century, and is thus the oldest brass instrument capable of playing the full chromatic range. Called the 'trombona' by Bach, it was one of the traditional members of the 'Stadtpfeifer' ensemble, and as such was used to sound forth from towers as well as in church music. The Leipzig musicians usually had access to municipal instruments kept in the town hall tower. From inspection reports, as well as the clefs used in the parts, it is apparent that there were treble, alto, tenor, and bass instruments. Trombones by the Leipzig instrument maker J. H. Eichentopf survive. In Bach's original parts from the Leipzig period trombone parts are notated in Chorton, like the organ parts. Bach used trombones primarily in his first two years in Leipzig, especially in the annual cycle of chorale cantatas ( 1724-5); there they appear in motet movements in stile antico and in chorales, where vocal lines are supported by treble trombone (or cornett), alto, tenor, and bass trombones and the effect of this sonority is archaic. Using them as an ensemble is the rule in about a dozen works; using a single trombone to support a vocal line is the exception, seen in Cantatas BWV 3, BWV 96, BWV 133, and BWV 135.<<

The MGG speaks only about Monteverdi's 'Orfeo' having a division/contrast between 'light and dark' instrumentation: the upper world using violoa da braccio, organ, harpsichord, contrabass, harp and chitarrone while the underworld has the cornett, trombone and regal. Nothing is made of this as establishing a tradition for funeral music. Also: "towards the end of the 17th century, there is a gradual dying-out of the early Baroque instruments, cornett, shawm, crumhorn, bombard with a transformation of the ideal sound to favor the oboe, transverse flute, horn, and bassoon, even later the clarinet. The wind instruments of the Classical period and the kernel of the Modern era are already beginning to take on form. Händel shows this new direction much more clearly than J. S. Bach, who still had to fall back upon the 'Stadtpfeifer' for some of his orchestration. Händel's 'Water Music' sets up 3 groups of wind instruments with 3 oboes and 2 bassoons and 2 brass groups each with 3 trumpets and horns. The score calls for 12 1st, 8 2nd, and 4 3rd oboes, 12 bassoons, 3 groups of trumpets with 3 to 6 trumpets in each, 9 horns and 3 timpani. The otherwise obligatory cornets and trombones are left out completely, but Händel still retains the form of the composition: the traditional suite.<<

From the Grove Music Online article we learned that Händel did not even have any native players to play the trombone parts which he wrote into his late operas, 'Israel in Egypt' and 'Saul' in 1739.

I have a CD before me now "German Music for Trombones" played by the Triton Trombone Quartet [BIS CD-644] which includes notes for the following pieces contained therein:

Daniel Speer (1636-1707) 3 Sonatas
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) Sonata (Sinfonia) and
Paduane
Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517) A la Bataglia
Heinrich Schütz (1450-1517) Fili mi, Absalon
Beethoven 3 Aequale
Wenzel Lambel (1787-1861) 5 Aequale
Thomas Selle (1599-1663) Domine exaudi
Bruckner 2 Aequale
Johann Rudolf Ahle (1625-1673) Herrn nun läßt du deinen Diener
Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) Symphonia & Sonata
Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630) Sonata
Giovanni Martino Cesare (1590?-1667) Canzona ,La Bavara'

The composition by Schütz, mentioned in the Grove Music Online article that I quoted from yesterday as giving evidence of a 'superb example' of how the symbolic association with death came about, is here treated only in terms of the text: there is a reference to the creation of an atmosphere of dark solemnity and that the composition is a dramatic lament of King David for his son Absalom.

The 'Aequale' pieces, much later development, were used, particularly in Austria, to be played from towers on All Souls' Day and the previous evening. This connects with the funeral service and represents 'a Catholic variation in the Protestant custom of performing hymns of lamentation at the moment of burial. The theological meaning of the trombone as a symbol of divine presence, as the voice of the angels and as an instrument of the last judgment is thereby underscored.' [Notes by Ulrich Dieckmann] The latter also writes generally about trombones: "Originally one of the main tasks of the 17th -century trombone was to accompany vocal music. On the one hand they were employed in sacred music to provide sonorous support for choral lines (this is why the family includes soprano, alto, tenor and bass trombones:0 on the other hand composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli and Heinrich Schütz attempted to give this group of instruments greater independence. Municipal and court musicians made use of trombones in tower music and dance music in combination with other instruments (e.g. cornets, shawms and pipes.) Composers such as Ceasare, Schein Scheidt, Skpeer, Pezelius and Reiche sometimes also made use of the trombone in a virtuoso and artistic way; on occasion they also treated it as a family of instruments capable of performance on its own."

This is a great CD to have. We certainly need more of this type. But, alas, the instruments used seem to be modern. Some instrument makers' names are unfamiliar to me (not Conn, of course) and perhaps these might be modern reconstructions, however in the fotos they all appear to be modern versions. Here are the instruments used:

Glassl alto trombone
Conn 88H tenor trombone
Cruspe tenor and bass trombones
Lätzsch tenor trombone

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 27, 2005):
Thanks again Thomas, for digging up good historical information on the trombone in your Jan. 27, 2005 (Thomas Braatz) post. I will save this valuable information in my "period instruments" file. It is filling in the gap for me regarding why many of the classical symphonies I play today (on trumpet) don't employ the trombone. Apparently there was a period of time from the late 1700s to the late 1800s where the trombone was not popular among the famous composers.

I perceive that J.S. Bach used the trombone much more frequently in his eacompositions, than in the later ones. Is that true?

Regarding the dimensions you listed for trombones from the Baines book, e.g.,

"Measurements in mm.

Name of Maker/Date
Diameters: Max. Depth/Cup Depth/Throat Depth of Cup

Alto Trombone
Birckholtz, 1695 33; 21; 8; 12.5"

These all relate to the dimensions of the mouthpiece, and don't necessarily indicate the bore of the instrument. The bore is measured as the inside diameter of the slide. Although the diameter of the mouthpiece cup and the diameter of the mouthpiece throat will have some effect on the volume of sound, it is the bore of the slide that more directly affects the volume of air that can be pushed through the instrument. Thus the bore of the slide is the primary factor influencing volume of sound.

However, it should be pointed out that the depth of the cup on the mouthpiece does affect the quality of the tone. For a specific trombone, a deeper mouthpiece cup darkens the tone, while a shallower cup brightens the tone by emphasizing the higher-frequency harmonics.

Does Baines give any dimensions for the inside diameters of the trombone slides?

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 27, 2005):
< I have a CD before me now "German Music for Trombones" played by the Triton Trombone Quartet [BIS CD-644] (...) This is a great CD to have. We certainly need more of this type. But, alas, the instruments used seem to be modern. >
I recommend the 1987 disc on Christophorus, "Posaunen zwo und auch zwen Zinken". Mostly 16th century music played by the Josquin-Ensemble Wien (Mayr) and Ensemble Musica Antiqua Wien (Klebel).

These ensembles are mostly Renaissance trombones and cornetti as the basis, but also have the occasional dulcian and shawms, and a couple of strings.

Pictured at: http://www.allegro-hifi.de/html/matinee_alte_musik.html

Perhaps hard to track down anymore, but this place named "Spaeth/Schmid" appears to offer them yet: http://tinyurl.com/6hqso

An excerpt from the booklet notes:

"In addition to the diversity of instrumental resources and the resulting treasury of tone colours in distinctive instrumental combinations, the historical instruments possess a typical quality which virtually predestines their use for the performance of Renaissance music: their ability to combine perfectly with voices without losing their acoustic character or being deprived of their individuality, and this in such a manner that the voices are not overpowered or tonally muddled. This characteristic is of considerable importance since according to the fundamental principles of a humanistic world view the vox humana stands in the center of the musical consciousness. Historical instruments may in this regard assist the listener of the 20th century to at least approach an understanding of the past ideals of tonal beauty."

=====

I recall in the 1980s there was also a good disc by the Slokar trombone ensemble, on Claves, "Posaunenmusik des Barock". This group: http://www.slokar-quartet.ch/

Modern instruments, in that case. It appears to be still available too, search that same Spaeth/Schmid site for "Slokar".

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 27, 2005):
Dale Gedcke wrote:
>>These all relate to the dimensions of the mouthpiece, and don't necessarily indicate the bore of the instrument. The bore is measured as the inside diameter of the slide....Thus the bore of the slide is the primary factor influencing volume of sound.<<
>>Does Baines give any dimensions for the inside diameters of the trombone slides?<<
Yes, but only generally, not relating this material, except in the instance of the Neuschel instrument, to specific historic instruments:

"Slide bores for alto and tenor [trombones] are usually very narrow, between 9 and 10 mm. For bass...bores are considerbaly wider between 11 and 12 mm. The Neuschel tenor of 1557, however, which has much of its originalslide, has a bore of nearly 12 mm.; this may have been conservative for its time and possibly some indication of the kind of bore which a slide trumpet had in earlier times."

Elsewhere Baines, in regard to modern trombones, states:

"The bore of the modern instrument is cylindrical for about half its length (more with the slide extended), the cylindrical section usually between 12.5 mm and 14.0 mm in diameter, although in bass trombones it may exceed 14 mm. A wide variety of bore sizes is produced by the larger manufacturers, and players select the most appropriate for the repertory and their own characteristics. The bore expands to a markedly flaring bell of brass, occasionally silver, with a terminal diameter ranging from about 20 cm across on a tenor trombone to about 25 cm on a bass. The U-bend of the bell section (the 'bell bow') is usually fitted with a tuning-slide and may include a weight to balance the whole instrument in the player's left hand.<<

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 27, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote and asked:
>>In that cantata [BWV 25], which deals rather obsessively with mortality, it occurred to me that the cornetto and trombone consort may be intended to suggest a funeral procession passing -- cornetti and trombones were played by civic waits. Does the doubling in Cantata 4 have the same funereal connotation?<<
From p. 128 of Konrad Küster's "Bach Handbuch" [Bärenreiter/Kassel, 1999] the following quotation which indicates that Bach, contrary to the notion that he may have called upon trombones to symbolically represent death/funerals in an Easter cantata, had a very pressing reason to choose these instruments over others when 'converting' BWV 4 for use in Leipzig:

>>[Bach's] use of instruments in orchestration reveals that the conditions for playing music together with others were substantially different [for each type of instrument] and had subtle ramifications and that, for this reason, it was difficult (even 'tricky') to 'transplant' compositions from one location to another, even from Bach's environment into our time..

There is one thing that is quite evident when examining the transmission of Bach's Mühlhausen cantatas: it is not just a natural thing taken for granted that these earlier works would be playable again in different locations [Küster has previously explained all the complications of Chorton, Kammerton, and the effects of temperament on both when changing from one locale to another.] For none of these [earlier cantatas] did the original parts survive. Because these compositions were geared towards a specific Chorton temperament, they became unusable after a change of location. If Bach wanted to do a repeat performance of one of these cantatas (this is substantiated in the case of the Easter cantata BWV 4 "Christ lag in Todes Banden,") he had to have all new parts written out for it. Basically, this was only possible whenever he had to give up the more complex 'leading' of the 'critical' instrumental parts, for only under these conditions would there be any prospect that the 'playing-together' of these parts would not cause pitch-related problems (as mentioned previously: not every wind instrument part can easily play a tone higher or lower without problems.) The unique position of the probable Mühlhausen cantata (BWV 4) in Bach's later musical practices [in Leipzig] becomes understandable in a very special way: besides the continuo group, only the strings and trombones are used in the instrumental ensemble. These are the two instrumental groups that are affected the least by matters of pitch changes. In this way, the 'conversion' [from the Mühlhausen to the Leipzig form of BWV 4] caused no problems [by using the much more flexible trombones and strings instead of other woodwinds and other instruments where greater difficulties would arise.]

German original:

>> Das Instrumentarium läßt also erkennen, daß sich die Musizierbedingungen bis in feinste Verästelungen hinein grundlegend unterschieden und daß es deshalb diffizil war, Werke von einem Ort an einen anderen zu >verpflanzen< - auch aus Bachs Ambiente in modernere Zeiten..

Doch daß die früheren Werke an anderen Orten wieder aufführbar wurden, ist nicht selbstverständlich; dies prägt die Überlieferung von Bachs Mühlhäuser Kantaten. Zu keiner von ihnen sind die ursprünglichen Aufführungsmaterialien erhalten; weil die Werke auf eine spezifische Chortonstimmung ausgerichtet waren, wurden jene nach dem Ortswechsel unbrauchbar. Wenn Bach eines der Werke neuerlich musizieren wollte (belegbar für die Osterkantate
BWV 4 «Christ lag in Todes Banden«), mußte er die Stimmen völlig neu ausschreiben lassen. Doch dies war prinzipiell nur dann möglich, wenn er auf komplexere Führung der >kritischen< Instrumentalstimmen verzichtet hatte, denn nur dann bestand Aussicht, daß ihr Spiel in einer anderen Stimmton-Relation keine Probleme bereitete (wie erwähnt: nicht jeder Blasinstrumentenpart läßt sich problemlos auch einen Ton höher oder tiefer greifen). Die Sonderstellung der mutmaßlich Mühlhäuser Kantate BWV 4 in Bachs späterer Musizierpraxis wird allerdings auf besondere Weise erklärlich: In ihrem Instrumentalensemble sind neben dem Continuo lediglich Streicher und Posaunen besetzt, zwei von den Stimmton-Fragen besonders wenig berührte Instrumentengruppen; damit bereitete die «Konvertierung keine Probleme.<<

Dale Gedcke wrote (January 27, 2005):
[To Thomas Braatz] Thanks, once more, Thomas, for researching the historical information on trombone bores. From what you have found (below), it appears that the 16th century tenor trombones had a smaller bore (12 mm or less) compared to the modern tenor trombone (12 to 14 mm). That smaller bore would have yielded a smaller volume of sound, giving the trombone a better balance with small orchestras. And, of course, the number of instruments in an ensemble was certainly smaller in those days.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 27, 2005):
Here is Johann Mattheson in his "Der vollkommene Capellmeister" [Hamburg, 1739, p. 470]:

>>Hiebey fällt mir die Frage ein: warum denn doch die guten Zincken und Posaunen, welche vormahls geschwistert waren, und bey den Herren Kunstpfeiffern sowol, als bey den Setzern, wie erste Springfedern, in Ansehen stunden, anitzo so gantz und gar aus den Kirchen, wenigstens aus den hiesigen [Hamburg], verwiesen zu seyn scheinen, als ob sie für unfähig erkläret worden wären? Da doch das eine Instrument, bey aller seiner Härte, sehr durchdringend ist; das andre aber überaus prächtig tönet, und eine grosse Kirche trefflich füllet. Wems beliebt, der beantworte die Frage.<<

[>>In this regard a question occurs to me: why in the world have the good cornetts and trombones, which once belonged together and were treated as a family by the 'Stadtpfeiffer' [city waits] and composers who thought of using them before considering any other instrument, been declared to be as if unsuitable/unfit [for making music?] Particularly since one of the instruments [cornett] despite all of its harshness/hardness, can be very penetrating and the other [the trombone] sound extremely magnificent and can exquisitely fill out a large church with sound. Can anyone give me answer to this question?<<]

For more than the first half of the 18th century, no trombones were used in orchestras and even in the large churches they fell into disfavor.

As Ulrich Prinz pointed out in the article that I quoted very recently:

>>In Bach's original parts from the Leipzig period trombone parts are notated in CHORTON, like the organ parts. Bach used trombones primarily in his first two years in Leipzig, especially in the annual cycle of chorale cantatas (1724-5); there they appear in motet movements in stile antico and in chorales, where vocal lines are supported by treble trombone (or cornett), alto, tenor, and bass trombones, and the effect of this sonority is archaic. Using them as an ensemble is the rule in about a dozen works; using a single trombone to support a vocal line is the exception, seen in Cantatas BWV 3, BWV 96, BWV 133, and BWV 135.<<

After 1725, Bach no longer uses trombones and since we have almost no existing parts from Bach's pre-Leipzig period, there is no easy way to prove that Bach would have used them very much, if at all, in the early years of his composing career. It would appear that Bach hat two primary reasons for using trombones in his early Leipzig years until 1725:

1. to aid in adapting pre-Leipzig cantatas for use in Leipzig

2. to enhance the feeling of stile antico or archaic motet-style in certain movements of his cantatas or some motets. Trombones had certain advantages beyond being playable entirely chromatically and adjusting quickly to pitch changes: they were mobile (could easily be taken to a house or a grave site) and they supported the singers in an 'open air' situation where, without amplification, voices suddenly begin to have less volume and carrying power.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 27, 2005):
< It would appear that Bach hat two primary reasons for using trombones in his early Leipzig years until 1725:
1. to aid in adapting pre-
Leipzig cantatas for use in Leipzig
2. to enhance the feeling of stile antico or archaic motet-style in certain movements of his cantatas or some motets. >
Maybe some more possibilities too:

3. They sound good.

4. He had good players who wanted something to play.

5. They blended well with the singers he had at the time.

6. Somebody in the congregation liked to hear trombones.

7. Maybe temporary trouble with the organ.

8. They give an appropriate mood for the texts, whether there's a tradition of it (making the music seem "archaic") or not.

Personally, I don't see why we'd need to force any reasons onto Bach, necessarily. Why not just let the man write whatever music he feels sounds good, and use his people as he sees fit, for the scheduled message of the day? It's his job to do so.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 28, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Personally, I don't see why we'd need to force any reasons onto Bach, necessarily. Why not just let the man write whatever music he feels sounds good, and use his people as he sees fit, for the scheduled message of the day? It's his job to do so.<<
These aren't just 'any' reasons being 'forced onto Bach.' These are observations based on actual historical facts which include trying to understand his rather limited-time involvment with these instruments which seem to have served the two main purposes I outlined. The main thing to understand here is that Bach had some primary reasons for employing trombones which had little or nothing to do with funereal coloring as an objective in orchestrating BWV 4. Only in BWV 25 & BWV 118 did he even attempt to use the instrument in a solo capacity; otherwise it was used only as support. Also, among the latter, there are only two cantatas BWV 21 & BWV 38 where the highest part of an otherwise 4-pt. setting is played by a trombone. In all other cases a cornett (Zink) took over this part

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 28, 2005):
>>Personally, I don't see why we'd need to force any reasons onto Bach, necessarily. Why not just let the man write whatever music he feels sounds good, and use his people as he sees fit, for the schmessage of the day? It's his job to do so.<<
< These aren't just 'any' reasons being 'forced onto Bach.' These are observations based on actual historical facts which include trying to understand his rather limited-time involvment with these instruments which seem to have served the two main purposes I outlined. >
Fine. But is it written down somewhere by Bach that his main reason to pick trombones was to make the music sound archaic, and to make his listeners think that way? Evidence, please.

I still think it's more likely that he wrote things for simpler reasons (like "sounds good" and "I've got guys to play it" and "people like listening to it" and "fits the mood") than only or mainly trying to make a neo-archaic effect in cantatas. Why over-think this?

The time-involvement argument (whether it's valid or not!) doesn't obviate the basic thing that musicians try to do, which is to provide music that sounds good and draws listeners into it.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 28, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>But is it written down somewhere by Bach that his main reason to pick trombones was to make the music sound archaic, and to make his listeners think that way?<<
He is not forcing his listeners to think this way or that. He was consciously pursuing an objective which was to demonstrate that old styles had great values that should not be overlooked. It is possible to compose new, great music using an older style. Going along with the current fad (galant style) was quickly moving toward a dead end as he had sensed early on. Bach is showing his listeners and other composers what is worth preserving.

BL: >>I still think it's more likely that he wrote things for simpler reasons (like "sounds good" and "I've got guys to play it" and "people like listening to it" and "fits the mood") than only or mainly trying to make a neo-archaic effect in cantatas. Why over-think this?<<
A true leader in musical matters such as Bach does not need to kow-tow to the current fads and whims of the listening public. To be sure, he demonstrated on occasion that he could do this if he had to, but generally he was not subservient to the notion "people like listening to it or like playing/singing it." For this, as he would say, the people on the street have their own ditties to sing and play repeatedly. The notion of "I've got guys to play it" should more properly read "I am composing things that are probably just on the edge of playability. I hope that they will at least partially live up to my expectations." I am certain that he put Gottfried Reiche and others through their paces, causing them to sweat things out and not necessarily make things easy for them.

BL: >>The time-involvement argument (whether it's valid or not!) doesn't obviate the basic thing that musicians try to do, which is to provide music that sounds good and draws listeners into it.<<
The question remains: how many listeners back then, not necessarily being educated in music, having heard only a single performance of a cantata in a cold and damp church, could assimilate it in a single hearing and say "I was drawn into it immediately and it sounded great all the way through?"

Perhaps this is why we have hardly any accounts of Bach's performances of this type.

I personally believe that Bach knew that he had set a course to follow and tried to uphold the highest ideals in music composing and performing. He was consciously presenting his music to a much higher audience. We are certainly privileged to participate as members of this audience and not one that was restricted only to its own time and place of existence.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 28, 2005):
>>But is it written down somewhere by Bach that his main reason to pick trombones was to make the music sound archaic, and to make his listeners think that way?<<
< He is not forcing his listeners to think this way or that. He was consciously pursuing an objective which was to demonstrate that old styles had great values that should not be overlooked. It is possible to compose new, great music using an older style. Going along with the current fad (galant style) was quickly moving toward a dead end as he had sensed early on. Bach is showing his listeners and other composers what is worth preserving. >
The request was for hard evidence, not for unprovable re-re-re-assertions (i.e. arbitrary guesswork) about Bach's consciousness and motivations, and about things he "sensed early on", and things he was deliberately trying to demonstrate in some pedantic way to his congregations, and deliberate resistance to trends in favor of archaism.

Occam's Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the best one in the construction of a theory. Explanations such as writing music with the aim of sounding good, for example.

 

Bach's Trombones

Continue of discusssion from: Cantata BWV 23 - Discussions Part 2

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 28, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< Trombones doubling voices (not in Rilling) are certainly very effective in this type of music; I suspect their absence in a later version has more to do with lack of available forces than aesthetics. >
Hmm. I would argue the opposite.

First, we have to rethink the sound of "Bach's trombones". They were not the big Wagnerian instruments of the 19th century but rather the small and soft-voiced sackbutts of the late Renaissance. Together with the cornetto, they doubled voices almost as a norm to create the sound of a choral tutti. In polychoral motets, especially in Gabrieli, they often replaced voices, and there is much commentary about how much they resembled human voices. They were agile and expressive. We see them in their old colla parte roles in "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" where they have to play the extremely difficult vocal lines. This would sound ludicrous on modern trumpet and trombones.

Bach's use of trombones becomes more selective as the years pass. It well may be sign of "new music" that it is no longer doubled by the brass as in the 17th century. We do see it in more old-fashioned works like Cantata BWV 118, "O Jesu Christ, mein¹s Lebens Licht" where there is independent brass music. I would suggest that the sonorities of the brass ensemble came to be loosely associated with funeral music. The most notable example is Cantata BWV 23 "Es is nichts Gesundes" where the wind band playing the "Passion Chorale" may be Bach's musical depiction of a funeral band passing by.

We really don't see a modern use of trombones until Mozart's revolutionary "Mass in C Minor" where the trombones move in and out of colla parte and independent parts. I'd be interested to know whether Telemann, Fasch and Graupner wrote for trombone in a "modern" fashion.

George Bromley wrote (April 28, 2010):
A few years ago I sung Christus Lag (BWV 4) in a Church in Bryanston with The Joannesburg Bach Choir using trombones, the effect (even from the choir) was stunning.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 29, 2010):
colla parte trombones

George Bromley wrote:
> A few years ago I sung Christus Lag (BWV 4) in a Church in Bryanston with The Joannesburg Bach Choir using trombones, the effect (even from the choir) was stunning<
I take it these were all modern instruments?

I wouldn't necessarily dismiss out of hand the use of modern trombones, as Doug suggests, even in the faster moving choral lines of 'Christus Lag' (BWV 4). It all depends on the conductor's interpretation and articulation of the music.

Certainly, trombones lend a 'funereal', or transcendent effect which can be most effective in BWV 23/4, and also BWV 4/2 depending on intrepretation (tempo, etc)

BTW, I also loved Karajan's powerful molto Adagio version with modern trombones (largely colla parte, I think) of the Qui tollis of Mozart's C minor mass

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 29, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< BTW, I also loved Karajan's powerful molto Aversion with modern trombones (largely colla parte, I think) of the Qui tollis of Mozart's C minor mass >
The C Minor is a wonderful opportunity to see Mozart playing with the older tradition of colla parte trombones as they emerge from their doubling into independent parts. Also fascinating is the way Beethoven delays the entry of the trombones until the "Pater Omnipotens" in the Gloria of the Missa Solemnis. I think this tension between doubling and independent parts really starts with Bach.

Neil Mason wrote (April 29, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< We really don't see a modern use of trombones until Mozart's revolutionary "Mass in C Minor" where the trombones move in and out of colla parte and independent parts. >
Were these really written by Mozart or by someone else completing the orchestration?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 29, 2010):
Neil Masdon wrote:
< Were these really written by Mozart or by someone else completing the orchestration? >
Yes, by Mozart. 100 percent genuine.

Here's the opening bars: http://i44.tinypic.com/2vjtq88.jpg

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 29, 2010):
Neil Masdon wrote:
< Were these really written by Mozart or by someone else completing the orchestration? >
You may be thinking of the Requiem which was completed by Süssmayr after Mozart's death in 1791. The C Minor was written in 1783 but never completed by Mozart. For its premiere, Mozart probably added the missing movements from one of his other masses (the Mass in C works well).

The notion of a mass compilation is not unlike Bach's compositional model for the Mass in B Minor.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 29, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I wouldn't necessarily dismiss out of hand the use of modern trombones, as Doug suggests, even in the faster moving choral lines of 'Christus Lag' (BWV 4). It all depends on the conductor's interpretation and articulation of the music. >
Renaissance and baroque trombones are radically different than modern trombones in their construction and sound. Their purpose and the expectations of trombone performers during that period were significantly different than their modern counterparts, which all have had an impact on how the instruments were made. In some ways, the trombone's evolution is a bit more convoluted than the trumpet. Using modern trombones would be like having a big heavy Wagnerian soprano doing a Bach cantata. With what we know about instruments and performance habits from the baroque, what's the point really?

Neil Halliday wrote (April 29, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
>With what we know about instruments and performance habits from the baroque, what's the point really?<
The point is the stunning effect of (presumably modern) trombones in Christ Lag, reported by another member.

I have had the experience of abandoning performances of Bach's cantatas on radio because of the woeful inaccuracy, weakness and untidiness of baroque trumpets (admittedly in this instance, an all Australian cast; I doubt this country has more than a couple of performers who can play the blasted things satisfactorily); the conductor should have hired three modern trumpets that could have performed the parts to a decent standard; likewise I'd be very suspicious of arguments that modern trombones can't perform Bach.

George Bromley wrote (April 28, 2010):
[To Neil Halliday] Yes they where the modern type and I know the sound of the older trombone but it still sounded fantastic. I have sung the c minor mass many time standing behind the trombones which double the tenor line, truly thrilling.

Thérèse Hanquet wrote (April 28, 2010):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< [...] likewise I'd be very suspicious of arguments that modern trombones can't perform Bach. >
This seems to me a bit like the issue of female singers in sacred cantatas.

It does not reflect the way Bach had his cantatas performed , but we can like it - or not.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 29, 2010):
Thérèse Hanquet wrote:
< It does not reflect the way Bach had his cantatas performed , but we can like it - or not. >
I'm generally a fan of modern instruments in Bach. Players can use piccolo trumpets for Bach's clarini parts, but there is a real sound difference between sackbutts and modern trombones. And it's not that modern players can't play the passagework; it's just that the modern sound is larger.

I would be interested in knowing how many conductors use modern trombones in "Christ Lag in Todesbanden". In fact, some conductors of period performeces discreetly drop all the colla parte doubling.

Have any of the audiophiles here summarized the performances of "Christ Lag" (BWV 4)?

Aryeh Oron wrote (April 30, 2010):
Bach's Use of Trombones

Thomas Braatz contributed a short article to the discussion of Bach's Trombones.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/BachTrombone.pdf

Neil Halliday wrote (April 30, 2010):
[To Aryeh Oron] Thanks very much, Thomas, for this handy list.

The three Christmas cantatas listed, namely BWV 64, BWV 121 and BWV 28 are all on the one CD in Richter's set: Volume I, CD 2.

They are given vigorous performances, with Richter giving his trombonists quite a workout! The trombones are splendid in the large-scale final chorales as well.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 30, 2010):
[To Aryeh Oron] This is fascinating material, and it's great to have it all in one place. I reiterate my opinion that BCML is the principal online reference site for the study of Bach.

It is interesting to see Bach following the traditions of colla parte doubling in two categories: 1) "Antique" music such as Palestrina's "Missa Sine Nomine", and, 2) Funeral music in BWV 118.

The real surprise is that when Bach arrived in Leipzig in 1723 - 25, he introduced trombones into pre-Leipzig cantatas (e.g. "Christ Lag" (BWV 4)) which didn't have the brass when they were first composed.

Why?

There are a couple of possibilities:

1) Did the body of civic brass players have a statutory expectation that they would play in the cantata? Did it take a couple of years for Bach to iron out the union contract so that he could use trombones solely for aesthetic reasons? The score of the Palestrina mass suggests that perhaps the brass played when the mass setting on non-festal occasions was drawn from the 16th and 17th century repertoires. What do we know about the town waits? I wish we knew more about the mass settings: there was one every Sunday!

2) Although I have never been a proponent of the Exhausted Choir Hypothesis, there may have been occasions in the first couple of years when he thought the choir was not "up" to his music and he used colla parte trombones in an age-old tradition of assisting and amplifying the choir. He may have been experimenting with the acoustical profiles of his performance spaces in the churches. Against this suggestion, is the astonishing lineup of new music which he offered for his first Christmas in Leipzig.

Curious and curiouser ...

Julian Mincham wrote (April 30, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] I suspect a lot of things changed in the matter of taste during Bach's first years at Leipzig. The use of trombones was, I would think, largely an aesthetic choice--the difference they make to the sound of a motet/fantasia like that of BWV 2 is phenomenal. They also give an entirely different colouring to the concluding chorales.

A lot of other things changed as well. Bach only presented the one solo cantata in the first cycle and none in the second. Subsequently he presented them for all four voices. The use of sinfonias was limited in the first cycle, even more so in the second but thereafter macantatas open with massive instrumental movements, albeit often taken from existing works. There also seems to be an increase in the frequency of the duet/dialogue cantatas (some in the first, none in the second) after 1725. On the other hand, there is a diminutution in the number of chorales used; several in the first cycle have two or even three, thereafter it is usually only one and occasionally none.

I guess that the spread of Italian opera must have influenced certain aspects of style, particularly in the writing of recitatives although it is misleading to suggest that Bach became 'more operatic'. He was that from the beginning. But there is surely more to be said and written about the rapid changes of musical taste in Leipzig after his arrival. He may have had trouble with the bosses--what innovator doesn't? But he seems to have been at the heart of a number of radical developments of taste.

While here, can I take the opportunity of thanking all those who wrote to me, mostly off line, to send their appreciation for and suggestions about the new website--I have so far received responses from 20 countries. Being new to the challenges of setting up a web site I did not envisage that there would be so many teething problems---it's a pretty steep learning curve but I think most of them have been dealt with now.

Russell Telfer wrote (April 30, 2010):
George Bromley wrote
< Yes they where the modern type and I know the sound of the older trombone but it still sounded fantastic. I have sung the c minor mass many time standing behind the trombones which double the tenor line, truly thrilling. >
I agree. David Willcocks used (modern) trombones for the B Mi Mass (BWV 232) a few times in the 1970s in the Albert Hall and in the RFH and these performances were quite stunning. As with George, I was in the tenor line. It's superb without the trombones but the effect is sublime when they're added.

I've experience too of original trombones played by pros and semi-pros with amateur groups. They're harder to play, and prone not to be played well (as other members have commented). I suppose they add some colour where the modern instruments add power. I'm happy with either.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 30, 2010):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I suspect a lot of things changed in the matter of taste during Bach's first years at Leipzig. The use of trombones was, I would think, largely an aesthetic choice--the difference they make to the sound of a motet/fantasia like that of BWV 2 is phenomenal. They also give an entirely different colouring to the concluding chorales. >
Has anyone recorded Bach's copy/version of the Palestrina Mass?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina & Bach [Bach & Other Composers]

George Bromley wrote (April 30, 2010):
[To Russell Telfer] I once had baroque trombone demonstrated to me by a lady who was playing with an ancient music group at a St George's day parade here in Horley, yes quite a different sound

to that which Wagner required.

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 30, 2010):
Bach & Wagner

George Bromley wrote:
< I once had baroque trombone demonstrated to me by a lady who was playing with an ancient music group at a St George's day parade here in Horley, yes quite a different sound to that which Wagner required. >
Wagner's treatment brass isn't all Sturm and Drang. I was listening to 'Die Walküre' the other day, and it struck me how much similarity there is to the 17th century polychoral technique of Praetorius. Yes, there are the big flashy motifs like the "Sword" and "Valkyrie", but the bulk of the harmonic texture is sustained by three "choirs" of horns, trombones and tubas. The trombones in particular often have a hymn-like quality (e.g. The "Valhalla"
motif in Act I).

We know that Wagner had heard some late Baroque techniques -- He was baptized in St. Thomas, Leipzig!. The opening of "Die Meistersinger" has a congregational chorale with orchestral interludes between the phrases which echo Baroque organ techniques. "Parsifal" is full of antiphonal choirs which show that Wagner had an intimate knowledge of 17th century polyphony.

Fascinating to think that the master of modernity may have heard echoes of Bach in performance.

Peter Smaill wrote (April 30, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling, regarding Bach & Wagner] The opening chorale to Meistersingers is often cited as the most Bachian moment in Wagner; to this day his house in Bayreuth has a large portrait of Bach (nearly all others I recall are of Wagner himself!) and we know that Bach was frequently played on the piano there.

The chorale in question, "Dazu dir der Heiland kam" is according to Cantagruel a free rendering to new words of the melody which accompanies the closing chorale of BWV 95, the wonderful Cantata "Christus, der ist mein Leben". There it is a verse of Nikolaus Herman's "Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist". But Cantagruel says more, and this is also a revelation to me at least, that a plain setting of this funerary chorale was the last work written by Robert Schumann at the asylum in Endenich.

It is also found in the Easter cantata BWV 31, "Die Himmel lacht, die Erde jubiliert".

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 1, 2010):
Bach and Trombones

Neil Halliday wrote:
< Thanks very much, Thomas, for this handy list.
The three Christmas cantatas listed, namely
BWV 64, BWV 121 and BWV 28 are all on the one CD in Richter's set: Volume I, CD 2. >
Although I did not yet have the opportunity to access Thomas post, I did check my Richter CDs, which are in agreement with Neil.

< They are given vigorous performances, with Richter giving his trombonists quite a workout! The >trombones are splendid in the large-scale final chorales as well. >

My guess is that those are 20th C. trombones, not some wimpy little things that Bach originally wrote for?

A famous conductor (exact identity escapes me at the moment) was quoted: Never look at [make eye contact with?] the trombone section, it only encourages them.>

Full disclosure: several folks I call friends play modern trombone, often loud and dirty. Except when backng a vocalist, when you can sometinmes hardly hear them.

Technique, or the instrument?

Neil Halliday wrote (May 1, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
>Technique, or the instrument?<
Technique, mostly.

[Nice to know those guys can be gentle, when necessary:-)]

George Bromley wrote (May 1, 2010):
[To Ed Myskowski] The conductor with no eye contact for the brass was to the best of my knowledge was Beechem ( who also at times said too much!)

Tom Sherwood wrote (May 1, 2010):
[To George Bromley] George's comment reminds me of a humorous quote from Thomas Schippers, when he was conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He told a group of would be CCM conductors, "Don't even look at the brass section. They're already too loud".

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 2, 2010):
[To George Bromley] Didn't Katajan conduct with his eyes closed?

George Bromley wrote (May 2, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] Sir Thomas also made very rude comments about harpsicords (something to do with dancing on tin roofs)

Julian Mincham wrote (May 2, 2010):
[To George Bromley] Copulating not dancing. The 1930s BBC was very annoyed about ti!

George Bromley wrote (May 2, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] Sorry yes now I can recall, thanks for the correction.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 2, 2010):
[To George Bromley] Mind you, I suppose they might have been doing both at the same time?
The mind boggles!

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 2, 2010):
George Bromley wrote:
< Sir Thomas also made very rude comments about harpsicords (something to do with daon tin roofs) >
And female cellists ...

Philip Peters wrote (May 2, 2010):
George Bromley wrote:
< Sir Thomas also made very rude comments about harpsicords (something to do with dancing on tin roofs) >
""Two skeletons couplating on a tin roof", IIRC.

Julian Mincham wrote (May 2, 2010):
George Bromley wrote:
<< Sir Thomas also made very rude comments about harpsicords (something to do with dancing on tin roofs) >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< And female cellists ...>
Yup. Though even he didn't try that on Lord Reith's prissy BBC of the time!

George Bromley wrote (May 3, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] also french horn players who floffed Richard Strauss.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 3, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham]
"I dreamt one night that I was conducting Handel's Messiah. I woke up and discovered I was!"

Thomas Beecham

Julian Mincham wrote (May 3, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] I also like the story that when he asked the name of one of the dep musicians and was told Thalbern Ball, Sir. Beecham said 'Ball? Ball? how very singular!'

People seldom got the last word with him but one guy did in the days in which orchestral musicians were always sending in deps and the conductors had little control of the situation. B once congratulated a player saying that he was the only member of the orchestra who had himself, without sending in any deps, attended all the rehearsals. Looking a little embarressed the musician replied, 'Well Sir Thomas, it's the least I could do--I'm sending in a dep for the concert tonight!'

It's a wonder they got any decent standards under those conditions.

Douglas Cowling wrote (May 3, 2010):
[To Julian Mincham] To the brass bands in the galleries of the Albert Hall for the Berlioz "Requiem",

"Gentlemen, keep in touch!"

 

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Last update: ıMay 5, 2010 ı10:05:50