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Vibrato - Part 1

Vibrato in Bach & Modern and Period instruments

Steven Langley Guy wrote (July 2, 1999):
<warning>
These are my thoughts in response to Mr Sherman's remarks and pertain to the way Bach is played in concert and on recordings. These comments do not relate to any specific recordings but can be taken as general observations about the differing approaches taken to Bach's music. They are my own opinions and are based on my participation in baroque music making and over thirty years of avid listening and concert going. I am not an expert and I don't mind being taken to task over any point I've made.
_____________________________________________________________________
< Steven wrote: It is interesting to consider that Bach's soloists in his Cantatas and Passions were likely drawn from the chorus and these singers were not fighting to be heard over an oversized modern orchestra complete with modern brass (please excuse me Bob!).
I hope that these further comments offend no-one - including Andrea and especially Mr Sherman. >
Certainly no offence taken. Modern doesn't necessarily mean Wagnerian. On the contrary, I have always felt that modern-instrument baroque orchestras should be small. The corollary to this is that live performances should be in small chambers rather than 2700-seat concert halls. Unfortunately, commercial considerations make this difficult to do.

I suppose that piano soloists and string quartets must have some problems with big halls? Sneaky amplification is one solution?

The one exception I would make (I don't claim to be consistent) is the b-minor, where Richter's relatively large orchestra behind his chorus produces a magnificent statement.

I actually grew up listening to this version and although I found it impressive for many years I have grown tired of its 'grandeur'. I feel that the delicacy of Bach's very finely worked out instrumental interplay is obscured by Richter's modern instruments. Don't get me wrong, for its time Richter's B Minor Mass was pretty much a 'historically informed performance'.

I like to hear the wooden flutes, the oboes d'amore and the long clarino trumpets that can play hard but still not obliterate the other instruments. A chorus like "Et resurrexit" has the trumpets, flutes, oboes and strings all doing different things at the same time. Authentic/period instrument performances, I feel, allow us to hear the kind of orchestral textures and colour combinations Bach had in mind. I can listen to Richter with fond memories, but for me, at least, it doesn't reveal the beauty and functionality of Bach's supreme knowledge of the orchestra of his day.

Note that Bach (Handel too) never wrote vocal solos with full brass accompaniment. He uses only one trumpet (Xmas O. (BWV 248) with bass, Cantata BWV 51 with soprano) or one horn (b-minor with bass). This makes the balance manageable.

Sorry to be pedantic but I feel that this is not quite true. Bach wrote for more than
one brass instrument and solo voice on many occasions. "Der Herr ist König wiglich" a bass aria from BWV 143 has horns (2 or 3?), timpani and continuo. BWV 119 features a recitative for bass solo + 3 trumpets, timp., 2 recorders, 2 oboes da caccia & continuo. The aria "Nimm mich dir zu eigen hin" from BWV 65 features 2 treble recorders, 2 horns (playing high notes too), 2 oboes da caccia, full strings & continuo against a solo tenor voice. Alto aria - "Durch machtige Kraft" from BWV 71 requires 3 trumpets, timpani & continuo (even a modern alto would need the voice of Apollo to be heard over three modern piccolo trumpets in this one). The duet in BWV 4 "Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt" needs a cornetto in unison with the solo soprano and a trombone in unison with the solo alto voice. Bass aria "Heiligste Dreieinigkeit" needs 3 trumpets, timpani, bassoon and continuo, another solo Bass aria from BWV 205 "Zurucke, zurucke, geflugelten Winde" pits the solo voice against 2 horns, 3 trumpets, timpani and continuo. I am sure that better students of Bach than I could find many more (it took me ten minutes to locate the about arias). Telemann wrote many similar arias in his Cantatas and I have heard some arias of Johann Adolf Hasse that use both horns and trumpets as well as the string orchestra to accompany the solo voice. Johann Josef Fux's opera "Costanza & Fortessa" is especially heavily scored for outdoor performance with 8 trumpets, timpani and double orchestra including oboes flutes etc., Fux's singers must have been working overtime in some of the arias (I've looked at this impressive score - what a magnificent work! A pity no-one has recorded it). Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber's 32 part Vespers has a one point a solo alto (countertenor) with 5 part strings, 4 trumpets, 2 cornettos, 3 trombones, timpani and four different continuo parts. Further to the question of the baroque sense of orchestral/ensemble balance consider - Carl Biber wrote an ensemble Sonata for 8 clarino trumpets, timpani, 2 solo violins and continuo. How would modern instruments fair in this situation? I can't say for sure.

The other problem modern instrument performances have is what to do about flutes versus recorders, tailles versus oboes da caccia, 'cellos versus bass gambas, lutes versus guitars and what modern instrument do you play cornetto, lituus, tromba da tirarsi, viola d'amore etc. parts on?? I've heard recordings where both recorder and transverse flute parts are both played on a modern (metal) flute - what happens to Bach's subtle difference in his approach to these different instruments? The 'taille' and "oboe da caccia' are both superficially tenor oboes in F but they make different sounds and were used accordingly by Bach - is the modern answer to play both parts on a cor anglais? Cellos and gambas have quite different roles in Bach's music - in particular Bach associates the gamba with death (see the Passions). The six or more strings of the viol family and the different tunings make some bass gamba music almost impossible on the four stringed 'cello without major surgery. Lutes, again have many more strings (in courses) than a guitar and as far as I know the guitar doesn't occur in Bach's music. What does a modern orchestra do in the St John? Bach's lute music needs to be rearranged to be playable on a modern guitar. The cornetto and cornettino have no modern equivalent and everything from trumpets to tenor recorders to even soprano saxophones (privately, my favourite) have been used as substitutes.

I am not even sure what a 'lituus' is but you need two of them in BWV 118 - hunting horns seem the most satisfactory solution. I've never heard of a 'modern instrument' answer to this one. The 'tromba da tirarsi' or zug-trompete is simply a slide trumpet, capable of playing a chromatic scale in the treble range. It does sound different from a modern trumpet but I guess a modern orchestra would simply hand the part to the nearest trumpeter as well as any 'clarino' parts that may occur in the same work. The way brass and woodwind was 'double-tongued' was different from the modern standards - in the Baroque they preferred the subtlety of the 'te-re-te-re-te-re' to the modern 'te-ke-te-ke'. Violas d'amore are a special instrument featuring sympathy strings that freely vibrate much like an Indian Sitar. Again, I can't imagine what modern orchestral instrument could substitute for this instrument (see the St John)? A synthesizer perhaps?

Basically modern orchestras have to make choices about how far they are going to abandon the fruits of Bach's colourful imagination. Works like the B Minor Mass and the Orchestral Suites aren't as problematic in this respect as the Passions, the Cantatas or the Brandenburg Concerti. How would a modern orchestra approach Cantata BWV 108? Scoredfor 2 treble recorders, 2 violas da gamba and continuo (a cello, an organ and maybe a violone?) what are your options? Two modern metal (transverse) flutes, 2 cellos (probably with metal strings), because the parts are too low for modern violas and yet another cello in the continuo with a double bass and the organ? How about the St Matthew Passion where you need three types of oboes (the standard, d'amore and da caccia), a viola da gamba, 4 flutes and 2 recorders? I am not sure what modern orchestras of the past did - probably flutes play both recorder and flute parts and cellos play their own as well as the gamba part.

I guess a modern orchestra could get in a treble recorder player for Brandenburg Concerto No 2 but it still has to compete with that piccolo trumpet. Get in a baroque natural trumpet in F too? Then the whole thing is starting to look ridiculous. May as well have done the whole thing on period instruments to begin with? A cornetto can be played pretty loudly next to modern instruments but don't ask it to blend (the cornetto was meant to blend so well it almost became inaudible) with soprano singers or violins using modern levels of vibrato. Gambas too can be played against modern instruments but their subtle sound will be lost among even a few modern strings. Again I have heard this tried. What is the answer?

The real problem with modern orchestras playing baroque music is not the size of the orchestra but the actual instruments used. (and style of performance but I'll shelve this even bigger issue)

Corelli had, perhaps, over 100 string players on certain concerts. Biber composed works occasionally on a nearly Wagnerian scale - the Missa Salisburgensis for example.

I am not against modern orchestras playing this music but it should be acknowledged that very much is lost in performing music this way. Period instrument orchestras have come a long way since the early days of Harnoncourt and Collegium Aureum and I would be the first to say there is always something new to learn about playing Bach's music on early instruments (I haven't even touched on the problems of style and baroque performance conventions).

Conductors and orchestras who still play this music on 'Twen Cen' instruments could say in the notes of their CDs or concert programs that the music is 'adapted' for the significantly different modern machines and the resulting texture is far from what Bach would have expected. This need not detract from anyone's enjoyment of a modern orchestra (chamber or otherwise) but let us enjoy this music with a little knowledge of what Bach originally would have expected?

I am not trying to say people shouldn't performance Bach on the piano, banjo, koto or whatever, but as music lovers we owe it to Bach and to ourselves to at least try to listen to Bach on his terms occasionally. I have heard countless twentieth century interpretations of Bach from Jazz to synthesisers to the piano to symphony orchestras and although these performances can tell us a lot they don't tell everything.

I believe a diaphragm vibrato will work on any wind instrument. But this takes a great deal of practice, and it's probably true that it was not done in the baroque period.

Yes, I agree and in wind instruments not until this century! You should try listening to Herreweghe's superb "Scenes from Geothe's Faust" by Robert Schumann with no vibrato from the period orchestra. Still so moving! Nevertheless, I prefer both singing and instruments with vibrato.

Well, a personal choice for sure, but you must admit that vibrato can't be applied to all music??? Or can it? It's a matter of warmth. Even Kirkby uses a bit of it. Not much in what I've ever heard, but I haven't heard everything she's done, of course and I prefer European singers of Baroque music who also sing with little or no vibrato but a with whole lot more fire than the good Ms Kirkby.

Anyway, just some thoughts. I am no expert and baroque music is just my hobby.

 

Vibrato?

Harry J. Steinman wrote (April 26, 2000):
Over the last year or so, I've seen various reviews that report unfavorably to the presence of vibrato in a singer's voice. I don't mean personal preference, like Simon Crouch's recent reaction to Matthew Goerne's singing, but rather statements that might read like, "So-and-so's singing was marred by an unmistakable vibrato" or something like that.

Why is vibrato bad for a baroque or Bach singer? Is vibrato bad in other musical genres? And what about instruments? Should baroque or Bach instrumentalists eschew vibrato?

Roy Reed wrote (April 29, 2000):
(To Harry J. Steinman) The whole business about vibrato is particularly about authenticity and accuracy.

Authenticity: This church music was sung by boys and young men. Not a lot of vibrato there. Soooooo, if what you you want is period authentic, baraque insts. et. al., then you want singers with little vibrato.

Accuracy: The less vibrato you get, the purer pitch you get. One can argue about whether the tone is purer or not, but the pitch is definitely more accurate. I recall when I first heard a recording of an English boys and mens choir. It was an LP of the King's College crowd singing Orlando Gibbons, conducted by Boris Ord. WOW!!!!! The thing that struck me right off was the pitch, the incredibly accurate chords. You could really hear the actual chords. Let me hear more of this.....and lo, a passion was born.

As for vibrato in the instruments??? My supposition is that the romantic era and its aesthetic made a big difference in the "warmth" of instrumental playing.

Helen-Anne Ross wrote (April 30, 2000):
(To Harry J. Steinman) Vibrato was seen almost as an ornament by string players in the Baroque era - to be applied judiciously, for emphasis and with "good taste". Later on it became normal to have a lot of vibrato.

Armagan Ekici wrote (May 1, 2000):
I am truly ignorant on the source of "historical argument" that vocalists used "less vibrato" during baroque times and I also join Harry in wondering the details of this argument. I see the point about choriboys, , but how about mature singers during baroque times?

On the other hand, during most of my years of as a classical music listener --around 17 years out of 20-- I have avoided most vocal music because I hated vibrato and over-pronounciation of the letters by "standard" singers. In other words I joined Captain Haddock in avoiding Castafiore when possible! Only during the last three years I was introduced to "HIP" vocal ensembles and vibrato-less singing and the whole world of Bach religious works opened to me. If we did not have vibrato-less singing of HIP, I would be still avoiding the stuff!

Philip Collins wrote (May 1, 2000):
(To Roy Reed) Schola Cantorum, the choir for the sanctioned Tridentine High Mass at Immaculate Conception in Cleveland, is constantly seeking voices from among Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve and Oberlin College students in order to maintain a complement of at least six voices for the masses and motets [Hildegard von Bingen; Gilles de Binchois; Johannes Ockeghem; as well as Victoria, Palestrina, Byrd, Magalháes, et al. However, at audition a major factor is: "Can you greatly attenuate or eliminate vibrato?" It is clearly difficult to find conservatory-trained SATBs who can master this vibrato-less vocal technique, and any auditioner who is incapable of putting away an "unmistakable vibrato" is politely disconsidered for the Schola Cantorum.

 

Turning off vibrato completely?

JohSebastianBach wrote (July 17, 2000):
Galina Kolomietz wrote:
< Some of his recent recordings (e.g., Herreweghe's Hail! Bright Cecilia or Lutheran Masses II) show that he can still turn off his vibrato completely, but he just doesn't seem to care. I'm not too bothered (yet) but my ear will not be forgiving for ever. >
Turn off vibrato completely?

I thought that vibrato was an ornament, meant to be ujsed to color long held notes, during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

How have I been misled?

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote (July 18, 2000):
(To JSB) I think that you probally are right (not ) about vibrato as it related to the voice. As it relates to the instrumental performance of Bach's works--- it was used sparingly to give a pathos to the mucic being played. The Organ is capable of vibrato (or some call it tremolo) which was used in Bach's day and there is an alleged Organ score (which I have not seen) in which Bach in one of his rare Organ directions calls for it. My and other musicologists researches seem to indicate that as far as the Organ is concerned : Vibrato was only used for very grave occasions such as a Funeral.
(no pun intended)

Benjamin Mullins wrote (July 18, 2000):
(To Ludwig van Beethoven) My, what illustrious members we have on this list!

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote (July 19, 2000):
(To Benjamin Mullins) Thank you Ben, but we have corresponded many times before.

 

Question re vocal vibrato

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 16, 2001):
Can anyone tell me if there is any justification either for or against the use of vibrato when singing early music, or Bach? I am listening to a recording of a Schütz passion, and the vibrato seems out of place and too operatic.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 16, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) Oops, I forgot to translate the last portion of the quote:

"Michael Praetorius demands of a good vocalist a 'pleasant' [whatever that means to M.P.]voice and a 'round throat' coupled with "vollen, hellen Laut ohne Falsetten (das ist halbe und erzwungene Stimme.)""

...a pleasant voice and a round throat coupled with a full-bodied, bright sound without any falsetto (which uses only half of the voice and causes the sound (voice) to be forced.

Steven Guy wrote (May 16, 2001)
[To Kirk McElhearn] Vexing question this!
I would say that vibrato is definitely out of place in Schütz and would be highly dubious in Bach's music. (Both of these composers were primarily church composers). Vibrato was used as an ornament in vocal music and even in instrumental music. Jacques-Martin Hotteterre suggests that vibrato can be accomplished on wind instruments (recorder, traverso & oboe) by trilling on a lower hole! (A sort of quarter tone trill!)

'Messa di voce' was a very, very important vocal and instrumental ornament - yet one hardly ever hears it done properly in recordings of Baroque music. The use of vibrato by singers in recent recordings of Baroque music may be the result of either laziness or the modern singer's unwillingness to modify his/her technique to suit the music.

A little vibrato - here and there is okay.
Constant vibrato is an absolute no-no.

Anyway, that's my spin on this issue!

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 16, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) A final correction: a 'pleasant' [whatever that means to M.P.]voice should read:
a 'pleasant' [whatever that means to M.P.]VIBRATO the last word written by Moser and not M.P.

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 16, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) In the MGG (Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart)I found a quote in an article on 'the art of singing' by Hans Joachim Moser in which he states that "Michael Praetorius demands of a good vocalist a 'pleasant' [whatever that means to M.P.]voice and a 'round throat' coupled with "vollen, hellen Laut ohne Falsetten (das ist halbe und erzwungene Stimme.)"" The latter quote, probably from c. 1600 helped answer in my mind, what is 'wrong' with the choral sections (sopranos and altos) of Leusink's Bach Cantata Series on Brilliant Classics. Here, finally, with your help (the question of vocal vibrato of this period), I found the evidence that I need, and perhaps it will help you too.

William D. Kasimer wrote (May 16, 2001):
Steven Guy writes:
< The use of vibrato by singers in recent recordings of Baroque music may be the result of either laziness or the modern singer's unwillingness to modify his/her technique to suit the music. >
It may also be an admission by singer and conductor that many people really don't like the sound of straight tone in solo singing. I'm certainly among these; while I dislike excessive vibrato as much as anyone, I certainly prefer a constant but narrow vibrato to straight tone. And I have to confess that I'm not convinced that so much straight tone was used in Bach's day.

Juan Jiménez A. wrote (May 17, 2001):
(T o Kirk McElhearn) Perhaps, my question only shows my ignorance, but why the opinions of Praetorius -circa 1600- are relevant for perfomance of works by Bach -written120 or 130 years later?

Bob Sherman wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Steven Guy) Steven may be right about Bach-era singers not using vibrato. We really have no way to tell, and what may have been practice in one town could have been entirely different from the practice in another town.

I have to say (and here again I probably disagree with Steven) that I regard the question as one of academic but not musical interest. To my ear, playing or singing without vibrato, except for horn, clarinet, or Rachel Podger's violin, is musically hard, cold, dry, and unpleasant. Authentic or not, I have no interest in listening to it. Of course excessive vibrato (e.g. Bernarda Fink) is even worse.

Daniel Hobbs wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Biob Sherman) I agree; most of the time, it is an affectation to omit vibrato. Indeed, breath that is supported properly will produce vibrato. Well-trained and talented singers can alter the speed of their vibrato to suit different tempi, to match in ensembles, etc. To think that vibrato is some Romantic invention, and therefore has no place in Baroque music, is silly.

Steven Guy wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Bob Sherman & Daniel Hobbs) I totally disagree.
Vibrato is an affectation. When one listens to recordings of some singers from the late 19th century (in very early recordings) many of them use far less vibrato that singers, say, in the mid 20th century. Okay, vibrato gets mentioned in the Baroque period (if you look hard enough) but one should not ignore what the treatises on voice really say. Vibrato was an 'affect' in Baroque music - to be used in certain ways. 'Messa di voce' was another 'affect' that was used too. However, 'messa di voce' was considered integral to a singer's art. Do we hear it much these days? Well, not often enough! I would also say that the habitual vibrato used by many singers today is very much a 20th century phenomenon. Many Pop, Rock and Soul singers survive quite well without vibrato!

It seems to me that it is only in the area of Bach's music that performers who do not specialise in Baroque music still make recordings. I don't want to debate the pros and cons of this but it does seem that some recent recordings have become rather..... 'slack' as far as performance practices go! (The McCreesh Messiah comes to mind with its
very wobbly contralto)

Even in Beethoven's time singers would probably not sing the way we would expect modern singers to sing!

Harry J. Steinman wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Daniel Hobbs) I don't have the technical point of view that many do...all I can say is that to me, Bach sounds better without vibrato. Can't say why; it just does. Maybe my instinctive reaction to vibrato is to associate it with romanticism, which doesn't sound right (personal opinion) with Bach and baroque.

Satoshi Akima wrote (May 17, 2001):
Steven Guy writes:
< Vibrato is an affectation. When one listens to recordings of some singers from the late 19th century (in very early recordings) many of them use far less vibrato that singers, say, in the mid 20th century. >
Every age has its performance mannerisms which do not need to be recreated for the sake of authenticity. I must say I find vibrato to be an annoying 20th century mannerism. I find it's continuous habitual usage every bit as annoying in Wagner as it is in Bach.

Daniel Hobbs wrote:
< To think that vibrato is some Romantic invention, and therefore has no place in Baroque music, is silly. >
Vibrato is just plain 'annoying' and nothing more. There is thus nothing "Romantic" about vibrato - listen to mono recordings of Karl Muck conducting Wagner or Nikisch conducting Beethoven and they have tremendous expressive impact withouhaving to resort to the maddening wobble. Why this sort of silly vibration adds anything to music I have no idea. It annoyed the heck out of Mozart and it does the same to me. And if any period instrument evangelist insists that it is authentic to play Kreisler or Bartok with continuous vibrato I must say I don't care for it and can live without it.

Steven Guy again:
< Okay, vibrato gets mentioned in the Baroque period (if you look hard enough) but one should not ignore what the treatises on voice really say. Vibrato was an 'affect' in Baroque music - to be used in certain ways. >
That's right it is meant to be an ornament to be used thoughtfully and sparingly. Just applying it to everything (?to make things more 'expressive') sounds about as tasteful as pouring tomato sauce on everything that you eat with the claim that 'it makes it taste better'. And if I don't like my Wagner or Schoenberg sung/ played with continuous vibrato I like it even less when my it is applied to Bach.

Kirk McElheran wrote (May 17, 2001):
Harry J. Steinman wrote:
< I don't have the technical point of view that many do...all I can say is that to me, Bach sounds better without vibrato. Can't say why; it just does. Maybe my instinctive reaction to vibrato is to associate it with romanticism, which doesn't sound right (personal opinion) with Bach and baroque. >
That's how I feel as well. And early vocal music sounds even weirder with vibrato, IMHO.

Bob Sherman wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Steven Guy) Steven's disagreement isn't about vibrato; it's about the fundamental nature and purpose of musical performance. We have had parallel arguments about other aspects of this question: whether one should use dead-tone out-of-tune valveless trumpets because that's what Bach was stuck with, etc.

Steven's post clearly demonstrates that he believes the purpose of performance is to recreate what somebody did at some time in the past. But music is a living, breathing art and the purpose of performance is to produce whatever is musically most effective; the best technology and technique is what best serves that end.

Museums do authenticity. Concert halls and recording studios should do quality. We can argue about what constitutes quality, and if somebody actually thinks that vibratoless singing sounds better, fine, that could lead to some interesting discussions. Personally I prefer Rachel Podger's Bach to that of Heifetz Milstein et. al. because it sounds better, not because it's "authentic". Ditto for harpsichord rather than piano continuo. But I would no more subject myself to "historical" performance for the sake of authenticity than I would to the "historical" surgery that cost Bach and Handel their eyesight.

William D. Kasimer wrote (May 17, 2001):
Steven Guy writes:
< Vibrato is an affectation. >
FWIW, this amateur singer disagrees. It's a sign of perfectly normal and healthy voice production. I produce it without thinking about it, and only when I'm supporting properly.

< When one listens to recordings of some singers from the late 19th century (in very early recordings) many of them use far less vibrato that singers, say, in the mid 20th century. >
Do you have some examples in mind? No doubt you're correct that some singers used less vibrato; I'd also suggest that some of them used considerably more, including some very, very famous and popular singers (Alessandro Bonci comes to mind immediately, but there are others). The difference a century ago is that audiences were far more receptive to wider varieties of voices in music of various eras. It's also worth remembering that the recording process of 1900 or so was terribly flawed, and makes most women's voices sound like train whistles.

I also think that we're all not really talking about the same thing here. I think that most of those who object to "vibrato" are actually objecting to "wobble" or at least excessive vibrato (either in terms of periodicity or amplitude), which very few people actually enjoy. Very few (if any) singers employ *no* vibrato at all, with the exception of some boy sopranos and certain countertenors. Or am I completely off-base here? Who are the singers perceived as using NO vibrato in Bach's music?

Donald Satz wrote (May 17, 2001):
I'm in complete agreement with Bob. As for the purpose of performance, it's whatever the performer wants it to be. My purpose for listening is not to hear accuracy from the past but to derive enjoyment.

Jim Groeneveld wrote (May 17, 2001):
I'll try to discuss the following issues:

* is vibrating singing with Bach authentically justified?
* is vibrating naturally or culturally determined?
* why is vibrating so popular with specific classical and pop music?
* vibrating (string) instruments
* my own preference, as a listener and an (amateur) singer

Is vibrating singing with Bach authentically justified?
How would Bach have ment it? What material did he have at hand? Did his singers and instrumentalists as he wanted or didn't or couldn't they? Did they the other way round, or did they obey Bach? So, even if performances in Bachs own time may not have been ideal according to Bachs own ideas, it would be his ideas to be the authentic ones, not the actual performances.

Was vibrating common in Bachs time? From what I've read there appears to be rather much evidence for not applying vibrating in Bachs music and during and before that time. So, that would make not-vibrating authentic.

Is vibrating naturally or culturally determined?
I think vibrating firstly occurred naturally and got used culturally. The answer thus would be: both. A singer can sing using spontaneous, natural vibrations (that suddenly may emerge) or using intentional wobbling vibrations, especially on long notes. The physical technique for producing vibrations in both cases may be the same or different. Natural vibrating may always have exsisted, while cultural vibrating may have intentionally been applied during specific times and musical styles in particular (e.g. Romantic style).

Why is vibrating so popular with specific classical and pop music?
I think there may be several reasons for applying vibrations in music:
* it is regarded authentic or assumed historic
* singers and listeners like hearing vibrations, they enjoy it (just subjective preference)
* singers use it intentionally as a means to show their competence in singing, their power to master their voice completely (my impression: often with Romantic music)
* singers use it (more or less) intentionally to mask their incompetence singing long steady notes correctly at pitch (my impression: often in present pop music)
So reasons may be various, both justified and unjustified, objective and subjective, rational and emotional, intentional and by accident, natural and cultural.

Vibrating (string) instruments
Apart from vibrating voice one can also play various instruments producing vibrations. The most evident example is the string instruments, which intentionally are forced to produce vibrating tones by vibrating movements of the (left) hand. Wind instruments often also are capable of producing vibrations; even organs may produce vibrations in a specific stop. Plucked instruments may produce vibrations as well by hand/finger movements. But a piano or cembalo obviously can not do so. Especially string instruments are commonly used to produce vibrating tones in most music. Violin players are learned explicitely to apply vibrations almost exclusively (it's common practise). But the reasons for applying vibration intentionally, if at all, are the same as with vocal instruments. So, according to me, the discussion should not only be limited to vibrating singing, but playing as well.

My own preference, as a listener and an (amateur) singer and instrumentalist
I have a strong (subjective!) preference for classical music from before 1750, i.e. Bach and contemporaries and older composers. And I like hearing (and singing) straight (if that is the right word for the opposite), not vibrating notes. I'll try to explain the one from the other (their relation) as objective as possible:

I think that one othe style differences between many older (Baroque and before) and less older (Romantic and later) can be regarded the difference in the amount (ratio) of occurring pure intervals in chords in compositions, but it is only my theory. My explanation is, that music has evolved during the ages from monotone (single voice) melodies, via monotone but multiple voice melodies, polyphone music, accompanied melodies to the complex music that we know nowadays. During the early musical styles music existed mainly, if not completely of pure chords/intervals, and in later styles chords/intervals were mainly less basic and complex. In order to perform/sing basic chords/intervals purely and correctly one should perform them straight, not vibrating. The chords would not sound pure if vibrations were applied, e.g. the pitches of parallel fifths. I have heard parallel fifths singing using vibrations, but that sounds as if the turntable doesn't run at a constant speed.

So, as the early music apparently may have been intended to be performed without vibrations by their contents only already, the opposite is also true: that music can be best reproduced without vibrations and would sound quite different if performed with. Less older music, assumed to be performed with vibrations, would probably sound less different, but yet acceptable, if performed without (e.g. Mozart). As far as I see it, the absence of vibrations with older music unconditionally is related to the musical content itself. That may be explained by the fact that pure basic intervals also produce (constant) recognizable, audible difference frequencies, which contribute to the whole perception. With vibrations the difference frequencies would vary randomly and significantly and contribute quite differently to the whole, if audible at all.

And I like hearing music from e.g. Schütz and Purcell performed without vibrations, both voices and instruments. Hearing violins playing straightly is delightful and it touches my ears and musical soul. To me playing straight adds much to the (affective) impression of the older music to me. It suits the older music precisely. It is like a strong, straight, metal knife or sword striking me deeply, in contrast to a weak, floppy, curled piece of rope touching me only superficially.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Donald Satz) I'm in complete disagreement with both you and Bob, and your derogatory remarks definitely don't do any justice to those people trying to reconstruct the composers world. Bob is also trying to suggest a false distinction between authencity and quality, which is definitely insulting for anyone trying to do he or she can do to bring a piece music in the context of it's time. Compared with paintings: you will restore a painting and 'bring it to life' by just painting it over (as is any piano perfomance of Bach's music), where those interested in HIP will only clean it. Every composer before about 1750 was a child of his time, and every composer didn't compose for posterity. Beethoven was the first one to do this.

Donald Satz wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) Sorry for irking anyone, but I don't believe that Bob or I said a thing that is derogatory concerning individuals who are trying to recreate Bach's world. Stating that the performer determines the purpose of the performance is just a simple fact. If the performer does not determine the purpose, who does? Those who listen to the performance make their own determination as to its value to them based on conception and execution.

I take no issue with the value of historical accuracy and often prefer listening with that purpose in mind, but there are many other purposes that a performer or listener might key on. It's a wide-open field concerning purpose.

Bob Sherman wrote (May 17, 2001):
(To Sybrand Bakker) If Sybrand finds disagreement with his view to be insulting and derogatory, I don't understand that and won't respond to it. Anyone is free to take issue with anything I say and there is not the slightest possibility that I will feel insulted.

On the substance of his post, the distinction between authenticity and quality isn't false. The two are orthogonal. A performance can be of high quality or poor quality, and it can in either case be authentic (presuming we know for sure what that means) or not authentic. The two dimensions can be combined in any mix. If Sybrand believes there is no such thing as a poor quality authentic performance or a great quality non-authentic performance, I will just respectfully disagree and enrich my existence by putting on one of Karl Richter's great performances.

Charles Francis wrote (May 17, 2001):
Bob Shermaro wrote:
< If Sybrand finds disagreement with his view to be insulting and derogatory, I don't understand that and won't respond to it. Anyone is free to take issue with anything I say and there is not the slightest possibility that I will feel insulted. >
Don't worry, its a typical reaction for certain Engineers. Being shy and uncomfortable with human interaction, they sit quietly until provoked to anger. The result is we only see the angry interjections and perhaps get a false impression of character.

Steven Guy wrote (May 17, 2001):
Juan Jiménez A. wrote: :
< To Kirk McElhearn:
In the MGG (Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart)I found a quote in an article on 'the art of singing' by Hans Joachim Moser in which he states that "
Michael Praetorius demands of a good vocalist a 'pleasant' [whatever that means to M.P.]voice and a 'round throat' coupled with "vollen, hellen Laut ohne Falsetten (das ist halbe und erzwungene Stimme.)"" The latter quote, probably from c. 1600 helped answer in my mind, what is 'wrong' with the choral sections (sopranos and altos) of Leusink's Bach Cantata Series on Brilliant Classics. Here, finally, with your help (the question of vocal vibrato of this period), I found the evidence that I need, and perhaps it will help you too.
Perhaps, my question only shows my ignorance, but why the opinions of Praetorius -circa 1600- are relevant for perfomance of works by Bach written120 or 130 years later? >
My guess is that some who who would like to heed Praetorius's advice vis-a-vis vibrato would not like his advice about other performance practices! (Praetorius seemed to like large choirs!)

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 18, 2001):
Juan Jiménez A. asks:
< Perhaps, my question only shows my ignorance, but why the opinions of Praetorius -circa 1600- are relevant for perfomance of works by Bach -written120 or 130 years later? >
< Kirk McElhearn had asked: Can anyone tell me if there is any justification either for or against the use of vibrato when singing early music, or Bach? I am listening to a recording of a Schutz passion, and the vibrato seems out of place and too operatic.>
Michael Praetorius had personal contact with Heinrich Schütz from 1614 to 1616. In 1618 Praetorius even collaborated with Scheidt and Schütz on a "Concertmusik" in the Cathedral of Magdeburg. Praetorius, mainly self-taught, was very original and enterprising in everything he undertook, but like Bach, Praetorius also absorbed all the new styles, particularly from Italy. A few of his choral selections can be considered just as good as anything that Schütz wrote.

Steven Guy commented:
< My guess is that some who who would like to heed Praetorius's advice vis-a-vis vibrato would not like his advice about other performance practices! (Praetorius seemed to like large choirs!) >
I think you should phrase that better as many small choirs and instrumental ensembles, which when taken all together, in a church service or ceremony, might result in a large (for that particular period) total number of singers, but such a combined choir, as you refer to it, rarely sang as a unit. Praetorius was more interested in the interplay of these small groups, perhaps a small ripieno choir on a separate church balcony joining with one other group. Did Bach get his idea for the opening movement of the SMP from Praetorius? Possibly. Check the CD by & Gabrieli Consort & Players: Mass for Christmas Morning on Archiv 439 250. Unfortunately, the notes do not list the number of singers, but there are sufficient pictures of the recording session, so you can judge for yourself. Don't count the singing congregation!

Steven Guy wrote (May 18, 2001):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Michael Praetorius had personal contact with Heinrich Schütz from 1614 to 1616. In 1618 Praetorius even collaborated with Scheidt and Schütz on a "Concertmusik" in the Cathedral of Magdeburg. Praetorius, mainly self-taught, was very original and enterprising in everything he undertook, but like Bach, Praetorius also absorbed all the new styles, particularly from Italy. A few of his choral selections can be considered just as good as anything that Schütz wrote. >
Hmmmm???? Maybe.
Very, very different.
Praetorius almost always based his works on hymn tunes. Schütz composed fresh music each time (although he based the doxology of one of his Psalmen Davids on Giovanni Gabrieli's madrigal 'Lieto godea' a 8 voci) Praetorius, particularly in his 1619 Polyhymnia composed on a very large scale. I have the full scores for about 15 of these works and have spent many years examining them. Praetorius, like Schütz, favoured 'expressive' instruments - violins, viols, cornetts, trumpets, trombones and dulcians but he used them in a significantly different way to Schütz.

Steven Guy commented:
< My guess is that some who who would like to heed Praetorius's advice vis-a-vis vibrato would not like his advice about other performance practices! (Praetorius seemed to like large choirs!) >
< I think you should phrase that better as many small choirs and instrumental ensembles, which when taken all together, in a church service or ceremony, might result in a large (for that particular period) total number of singers, but such a combined choir, as you refer to it, rarely sang as a unit. >
No.

There was only ever one 'choro pleno' in Praetorius and that was the 'cappella' which could include up to thirty singers. Each 'choir' was usually contained a single singer and three or four instruments either higher or lower in pitch than the voice. However, Praetorius, like Ludovico da Viadana, suggests that soloists may have their vocal line doubled by another singer(s) placed in a different part of the cathedral. For instance a high falsettist (sopranist) singing atop a choir of trombones or viols may be doubled by a singer in the same range some metres away in a different part of the cathedral. Viadana suggests that this is a good effect and was very common.

< Praetorius was more interested in the interplay of these small groups, perhaps a small ripieno choir on a separate church balcony joining with one other group. Did Bach get his idea for the opening movement of the SMP from Praetorius? >
Oh, I doubt that big time!
I would say that this work is very much in keeping with the 2 x vocal choir + multi choir instrumental groups in the works of Johann Schelle, Sebastian Knüpfer and Johann Kuhnau! See Schelle's large scale cantatas and Actus Musicus auff Weyn-Nachten to learn about Bach's real influences.

< Possibly. Check the CD by McCreesh & Gabrieli Consort & Players: Mass for Christmas Morning on Archiv 439 250. >
This was the Gabrieli Consort's greatest folly! All those crumhorns, shawms, racketts and recorder consorts! Purrrr-lease! This is PRAETORIUS we're talking about! McCreesh should have had a careful look at Michael Praetorius's actual suggestions about instrumentation. McCreesh's Praetorius was a near fiasco in my opinion. Roland Wilson's Musica Fiata recording of Praetorius on SONY is THE recording of Praetorius's music (an honourable mention goes to Andrew Parrott's incredible recording of four works from the Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica 1619 on EMI accompanying the Schütz Christmas History)

Schütz was, in some ways the German Gabrieli with touches. Praetorius continued the ideas about performance that seemed common in Lassus's Munich court. Schein's works parallel Schütz & Monteverdi while Samuel Scheidt seems to echo the techniques of Michael Praetorius. Bach is light years away from them all and you need to study Schelle, Knüpfer, J.K. Kerll, Buxtehude and Kuhnau to see 'where he's coming from'.

Anyway, that's how the music looks to me after studying it all my adult life!

Daniel Hobbs wrote (May 18, 2001):
(To William D. Kasimer) Exactly! There is a difference between naturally produced vibrato, a natural result of proper support, and tremolo. A wide, uncontrolled vibrato is undesirable in any context. A modern choir of trained singers' attempt to recreate the sound of a boys' choir by using straight tone is, to my ear, unpleasant, and actually deleterious to the voice (i.e., undue pressure on the larynx). And why should we try to imitate a weak boys' choir on a cold Sunday morning (services did start VERY early back in Bach's day) anyway, when practically every modern recording features a very well-trained choir of good singers? I think Bach would have been thrilled to have such choirs at his.

Steven Guy wrote (May 18, 2001):
< Daniel Hobbs wrote: Dare I say that he never actually got to hear the results he intended? >
You are joking aren't you?

Bach was a composer who clearly loved his work and made a good living out of it.
His music celebrates the lives and skills of the unknown people who performed his music. His music is a tribute to the skills and imaginations of the performers who played his music on a weekly basis. Let's see a little more respect please! These people may be dead but Bach's music celebrates the commitment these human being made to music only a few short centuries ago.

Daniel Hobbs wrote (May 19, 2001):
(To Steven Guy) Of course I'm not completely serious; the beauty of Bach's music is that it transcends any medium. I remember loving--and I mean I was obsessed with, at a very early age--two records in particular: W. Carlos' Switched on Bach and a recording of S. Richter's interpretation of the D minor keyboard concerto. Neither of these was "authentic," but the music spoke loud and clear nonetheless. Hell, I don't care if I hear a 'cello suite performed on a kazoo! I've been whistling "Ich folge dir gleichfalls" all day--is that a historically insensitive performance? The music speaks for itself. So what if we don't present Shakespeare's plays with the accent or diction of his time, the material is so rock-solid that concerns about recreating the period in which it was created are completely shadowed by the universality expressed therein.

Steven Guy wrote (May 19, 2001):
Daniel Hobbs wrote:
< Of course I'm not completely serious; the beauty of Bach's music is that it transcends any medium. >
Hmmm.....?????
This could be said of the keyboard music of Buxtehude, Froberger and Frescobaldi.
Sure, it may 'transcend any medium' but it was intended to. You can bet your life on that! The range of options Bach imagined or could have imagined are quite small for most of his music. I bet he would have assumed that cornetts would always play cornett parts - that oboe parts would be played on oboes that he would have recognized and that organs would have played his organ music.

< I remember loving--and I mean I was obsessed with, at a very early age--two records in particular: W. Carlos' Switched on Bach >
I enjoyed Switched On Bach. Its interesting and surprisingly listenable but ultimately I need to return to a more realistic interpretation of Bach.

< and a recording of S. Richter's interpretation of the D minor keyboard c. >
I guess that I have never really bothered with Bach on the piano. Sorry.

< Neither of these was "authentic," but the music spoke loud and clear nonetheless.>
Well, the notes do. Bach's music is subtle and exploits the characteristics of the instruments available to him. Period instruments make sense of musical lines that have often not made much sense on modern instruments. Wendy Carlos's rendition of the Sinfonia to Cantata BWV 29 doesn't deal with the fact that the oboe parts need to be performed on oboes d'amore which have quite a different timbre from 'normal' oboes. Sure, it still sounds nice but much is gained when period instruments are used.

< Hell, I don't care if I hear a 'cello suite performed on a kazoo! I've been whistling "Ich folge dir gleichfalls" all day—is that a historically insensitive performance? The music speaks for itself. So what if we don't present Shakespeare's plays with the accent or diction of his time, >
Well, plays deal with words and music deals with sound. No one, least of all me, would suggest that Bach's music should never be presented in new ways. But I feel that Bach's own ideas (or decisions, if you like) are the most important as far as his own music is concerned. As I said, I've heard all sorts of things done to Bach's music. Some worked and some didn't - at least to my ears.

I guess that I am bored with symphonic arrangements, jazz versions, synthesizer extravaganzas and mighty steinways in this music. I'm also fed up with over intellectualized and pretentious recordings of Bach. We all know that the more one listens to Bach's music the more one hears in it and many of its delights need a little time and patience to be fully appreciated. But these recordings that try to turn Bach into some sort impenetrably high-brow composer bore me to tears!

I like to hear Bach in performances that seek to make his music live in a natural and idiomatic way. Performances that speak in the language of the Baroque - made by performers who don't only play Bach but other Baroque composers as well!

 

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