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Women in Bach’s Vocal Works

Part 2

 

 

Continue from Part 1

Female voices perhaps offensive/annoying to Bach - why?
OVPP and female voices
OVPP and women's or boys' voices
More on boys vs. females

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 16, 2003):
< Steven Guy wrote: I am not sure and nobody can be for certain, but it is possible that Bach would have been very upset, offended or annoyed at the thought of using adult female voices in his sacred music. Bach was a very conservative man in many ways. >
Quite possible indeed. But, if so, would it be a musical choice or a theological choice?

That is, would it be based on interpretation of the two snippets attributed to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, the parts about women being silent in church?

The 1 Corinthians passage:
http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?passage=1COR+14&language=english&version=NIV
(Is not verse 36 Paul's rather sarcastic retort to the Corinthians that they are being too limiting, after he has quoted their own regulations back to them for this gloss?)

The 1 Timothy passage:
http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible?passage=1TIM+2&language=english&version=NIV

Or would it be because Bach or his congregations actually thought boys sounded better than women, musically?

What about female singers in other Bach works not for church, for example the songs in Anna Magdalena's notebook, or the secular cantatas?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 17, 2003):
p.s. on the theological portion below:

Even if it could be shown that those two passages are absolutely clear in prohibiting women from making a sound in church, not only for the time of writing but prescriptively into the 18th (and 21st!) centuries...it's still just an arbitrary selection. It ignores other portions of the Bible where women teach or prophesy to men, just as clearly.

It comes down to: choose one desired type of evidence to suit current needs/desires, ignore other evidence that would contradict it, and build an ideology!

(Sort of like the supposedly "historically informed" approaches to music that don't allow rhythmic flexibility....)

Robert Sherman wrote (April 17, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Wagner would probably have been deeply offended at the thought of Jews singing his opearas. That doesn't mean we should exclude Jews from Wagnerian opera, or that we shouldn't listen to Wagner.

For my part I don't know and don't care if Bach would have been offended by female singers doing his music. If they sound better, and to my ear they do, they are what I want to hear.

Thierry van Bastelaer wrote (April 17, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] Wasn't Bach reprimanded in Arnstadt for bringing a woman (Maria Barbara or not) to make music with her in the church? This would suggest he was not opposed to female singers in church. Plus it's hard to believe that Bach, who complimented his wife and daughter's singing abilities in a letter to a friend, would not have wanted such accomplished musicians to contribute to his highly challenging choral output.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 17, 2003):
[To Thierry van Bastelaer] But that was not during regular church service, so that can hardly be used as "evidence" for Bach being in favour women to sing in church. Bach had trouble in finding enough accomplished singers in Leipzig. He never asked the authorities to consider allowing women to sing instead of boys. I can't see any reason to believe Bach had any problem with the habit of using only boys and men for church services.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 17, 2003):
< Robert Sherman wrote: Wagner would probably have been deeply offended at the thought of Jews singing his opearas. That doesn't mean we should exclude Jews from Wagnerian opera, or that we shouldn't listen to Wagner. >
Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but not to write nonsense. Your argument misses any logic. It is the same as when someone would say that if you want to be 'authentic' you shouldn't have women in the orchestra, since that wasn't the case in Bach's time. I can't imagine that a Jewish bass would sound differently from a non-Jewish bass (apart from the fact, of course, that every singer is different). There is no reason to believe that a female violinist does play differently from a male violinist, simple because she is a woman.

But there is a fundamental difference between a boy and a woman, simply because the one is a boy and the other is a woman.

It may not matter to others what Bach had in mind, it does matter to me. Bach used boys to sing his sacred music, and so should we.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 17, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] This list is not the place for a theological debate, so I won't discuss in detail why I think your remark about passages of the Bible "attributed" to the Apostle Paul is wrong or to what extent the Bible allows women to play a leading role in church. The matter is: in Bach's days these remarks by Paul were used as an argument against allowing women to sing in church, and I have never seen any evidence that Bach questioned that view.

One could even say that the role of the cantata in church was a strong argument in favour of even the mildest interpretation of the remarks by Paul. As I read them, women are not allowed to preach in church, which would give them authority over other parts of the congregation - including men - which Paul - in my view in accordance with the teaching of the Bible as a whole - believes is fundamentally wrong. Since the cantata was considered to be a 'sermon in music' and in fact part of the preaching of the Gospel during service, allowing women to sing would make them part of the 'preaching of the Gospel in music', and therefore in opposition to the writings of Paul.

But it isn't only based on these passages of the Bible. Don't forget that all parts in Shakespeare's plays in his own time were played by men and boys. Women were not allowed to be on the stage. That has nothing to do with the passages in the Bible you refer to. And in Bach's time no women went to University.

< Or would it be because Bach or his congregations actually thought boys
sounded better than women, musically? >
That's anybody's guess. We can't ask him, so every answer is pure speculation. Not very fruitful, I would think.

< What about female singers in other Bach works not for church, for example
the songs in Anna Magdalena's notebook, or the secular cantatas? >
Interesting point. The common view is: religious music was sung by boys and men, secular music by women and men. That is too simple.
- Not all religious music is liturgical music. Some religious music was meant to be sung at home, or at least could be sung at home. See for instance Telemann's 'Harmonischer Gottesdienst'. There is no reason why women couldn't sing that kind of music
- In some French churches in the 18th century women were allowed to sing. And wasn't it Mattheson who let women sing in church behind a curtain, so that nobody would notice? (If that story is true, that suggests that the way women and boys were singing was not that different. Otherwise the congregation would have noticed, and the curtain hadn't been of any use.)
- To the best of my knowledge, there were no mixed choirs before around 1800. Therefore even in opera choruses must have been sung by choirs of boys (or probably adult discantists) and men.
- Some cantatas by Bach were performed by students from Leipzig University. There were no female students. So the soprano parts must have been sung by either trebles or adult discantists. Another possibility would be that singers had been brought in from outside University.

Donald Satz wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] I can't agree with Johan that we should use child singers. Why does should have to enter the picture? Performers will do what they want, and listeners will individually decide the merits of the approach.

Charles Francis wreote (April 18, 20):
[To Robert Sherman] Bach would be surprised by concert performances of his sacred works. Not to mention paying to listen to them!

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] How about this practical explanation (still conjecture, of course) since Bach was a practical man?

The young Bach in Arnstadt was a single guy with few responsibilities. He could afford to do things such as disappearing for a month without permission. In Leipzig he was 38+ and had a large family to support. At that point, even if he had wanted some female singers for his pieces, could he afford to enter a no-win political struggle that could endanger his employment? ("You can't fight City Hall" is a common American expression that comes to mind here.)

Or, this one: what if Bach in Leipzig did campaign (mildly) for female singers, but there simply isn't an extant record of it? He probably had some very good female singers living under his own roof at that point...Anna Magdalena herself, and daughters....

Robert Sherman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] It's always pleasant to read such civil discourse.

Despite Johan's lack of manners, he is of course right that a Jewish bass doesn't necessarily sound different from a non-Jewish bass. So consider that the eye cataract "surgery" Bach had, which caused him great pain and left him blind, was very different from the laser surgery one would have today with modern instruments and techniques. So if we are to faithfully put ourselves in Bach's place, does this mean we should subject ourselves to the surgery of his time?

I leave that decision to those to whom historical authenticity is overriding. And I will not follow Johan's example of telling everyone else what he/she should do. I only state that I prefer adult female voices.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] Right. If we are to be historically faithful, we need to cut that out. Also, central heating, electric lighting, and air conditioning in churches have to go.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Donald Satz] Don, best to watch yourself. Thoughts like that can get you in trouble with the Purity Police.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 18, 2003):
Johan van Veen stated: >>- To the best of my knowledge, there were no mixed choirs before around 1800. Therefore even in opera choruses must have been sung by choirs of boys (or probably adult discantists) and men.<<
MGG (vol.4, p. 1701) points to the Berliner Singakademie in the 18th century (they are often mentioned at the owner of numerous Bach manuscripts in the 1st half of the 19th century): >>1783 hatte Fasch den erfolglosen Versuch unternommen, mit Schülern und Theatersängern eine Messe zu singen. 1787 traten Frauenstimmen hinzu. Damit vollzog sich die Umwandlung zum neueren gemischten Chor. 1791 trat der Chor in der Marienkirche zum ersten Male an die Öffentlichkeit. Im gleichen Jahre erfolgte die formelle Gründung. Von 1793 an wurden die Proben in der Akademie der Künste abgehalten, von der der Chor den Namen übernahm.<< [Summary: After an unsuccessful attempt to sing a mass with pupils (boy sopranos and altos) and opera singers in 1783, women's voices were included more successfully in 1787. This was, in essence, the transformation from an all male choir to the newer mixed choir with female voices. This mixed choir appeared publically for the first time in 1791, which was also the year of the formal founding of the Berliner Singakademie.]

>>And wasn't it Mattheson who let women sing in church behind a curtain, so that nobody would notice? (If that story is true, that suggests that the way women and boys were singing was not that different. Otherwise the congregation would have noticed, and the curtain hadn't been of any use.)<<
MGG (vol. 1, p. 376): >>Eine Wendung trat erst mit dem Beginn des 18. Jahrhunderts ein, als die Frauenstimmen. in der evangelischen Kirchenmusik neben die Männer- und Knabenstimmen traten. So berichtet Mattheson in der Ehrenpforte, daß im Jahre 1716 zum ersten Male »ein Frauenzimmer auf dem Chor erschienen« sei. -<< ["A change first occurred at the beginning of the 18th century when women's voices began to appear along with men's or boy's voices. Mattheson, for instance, reports in his "Ehrenpforte" that a women appeared (we assume this means that she was singing and not simply standing there!) in the choir area (a balcony in the church from which the musical performance emanated) for the 1st time in 1716."]

Gene Hanson wrote (April 18, 2003):
< Robert Sherman wrote: Right. If we are to be historically faithful, we need to cut that out. Also, central heating, electric lighting, and air conditioning in churches have to go. >
And hi-fi, CDs, etc.

Douglas Neslund wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] Isn't it amazing what people get tied up with sometimes?

You might also have told the offending (at least to two of us) that the current alto soloist of the Tölzer Knabenchor is an Israeli (Tom Amir) !

Johan van Veen wrote (April 18, 2003):
< Robert Sherman wrote: Despite Johan's lack of manners >
Why? What have I done wrong? Disagree with what you wrote? Calling your remarks nonsense? I think that is a very moderate description of what you wrote.

< he is of course right that a Jewish bass doesn't necessarily sound different from a non-Jewish bass. So consider that the eye cataract "surgery" Bach had, which caused him great pain and left him blind, was very different from the laser surgery one would have today with modern instruments and techniques. So if we are to faithfully put ourselves in Bach's place, does this mean we should subject ourselves to the surgery of his time? >
Where is the logic? We are talking about the performance of music. What has eye surgery to do with that? And preferring a historically justifiable performance has nothing to do with putting ourselves in Bach's place. It never ceases to amaze me that some people seem to lose their ability to reason logically when they want to fight something they detest.

< I leave that decision to those to whom historical authenticity is overriding. And I will not follow Johan's example of telling everyone else what he/she should do. I only state that I prefer adult female voices. >
I am never telling anyone what to do. But I have the right to say why I think they should - from an artistic and historical point of view - do. You seem to think that every performer can do what he likes. That is not acceptable to me. I can only accept interpretations that are historically justified and pay respect - as far as possible - to the intentions and the performing habits of the composer.

Steven Guy wrote (April 18, 2003):
I rather like hearing boys voices (+ c-tenors) in Bach's sacred music. I am willing to sacrifice some of the things and adult can bring to this music for the purity and innocence of a young person's voice. The issue of the quality of modern boy vocalists versus those of Bach's time seems to be a moot point to me. There are good boy sopranos around today - and they are probably healthier and better trained than those of Bach's time. What about a fifteen year old girl?

If one is going to accept the large compromise (cultural, religious, artistic and timbre-wise) that comes with using adult female voices in performances and recordings of Bach, then is seems a little pedantic to me to suggest that OVPP recordings and performances with female sopranos and altos are more 'authentic' or HIP than recordings with small choirs will all male voices.

I mentioned earlier that some of the choruses in the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) have solo and tutti marks - at least the Bachs Gesellschaft Edition has!

Example:
So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen - bars 17, Coro I, "solo" over soprano part; bar 19, Coro I, "solo" over alto part.
Sind Blitze, sind Donner (coro I & II) - bar 9, Coro I "tutti" over alto part; bar 13, Coro I, "tutti" over soprano part.
There are a number of occasions where the Evangelist (tenor) joins Coro I - his part features the word "tutti" over in on each entry.

Make of this what you will. Of course, the simplest and most logical explanation is that Bach exthe solo voice to cease at this point and join the other singers of his section (maybe a single ripienist or a couple more voices).

I would never want to hear Bach's St. Matthew Passion with a big choir or even a large choir - three or four voices per part will do me fine!

Just a couple of points. I tend to feel that the OVPP practice has been over-sold (it has also been suggested that it is some sort of quantum leap in the performance practice of Baroque music - I don't buy this for a moment). It is defended far too vehemently for my tastes and the way it has been applied ad hoc to all sorts of earlier music is a worrying trend. I won't go into all the 'ins and outs' of how earlier Baroque music was performed but suffice it to say that choruses could be very small and could also be quite large. Viadana says in the introduction to his Vesper Psalms, 1612 that he feels that a choir of less than thirty singers will tend to sound inadequate. Schütz expects multi voice choirs to be singing his Psalmen Davids and if you read about the Florentine intermedii they seem to have mostly been performed with very large forces. Anyone who cares to read Claudio Monteverdi's letters will see that he was keen on larger forces - if he could get them - and he recommends that more voices and instruments should be used in larger venues.

If performers were a little less dogmatic about the OVPP concept then I think they would not arouse so much heated debate. Sure, OVPP is probably very appropriate for most, if not all, of Bach's cantatas. BWV 106 Gottes Zeit comes to mind - the use of a quartet of singers with two treble recorders, two violas da gamba and organ continuo sounds perfect to my ears. However, cantatas like Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn BWV 119 or Wir danken dir, Gott BWV 29, for instance, seem to be crying out to be performed by slightly larger vocal forces (BWV 119 requires four trumpets and three are needed for the choruses of BWV 29). I'd like to hear both of these cantatas with OVPP and a single boy soprano on the top line of each cantata! Let's face it, balance is going to be a big issue with these sorts of works.

Cantatas like Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV 4 require a cornetto and three trombones (alto, tenor and bass) to double the voices in several movements. I feel that OVPP would be very hazardous in such a situation - it would be so easy to simply render the boy soprano inaudible. Should Bach's motets be performed OVPP? I am simply not sure! I've heard them sung by small numbers of voices and this sounds okay to me. I've also heard the OVPP approach too, and that seems to work well enough.

Anyway, I never intended to say much on this subject and I really don't have much more to say.

I feel that Bach's music continues to be fascinating to perform, hear, see, imagine and look at.

Pete Blue wrote (aApril 18, 2003):
[To Steven Guy] I second every point in Steven Guy's post.

I just finished listening (for the umpteenth time rewardingly) to the Bach Motets ecstatically sung on a CD of a radio broadcast by the Tolzer Knabenchor (with male adult assistance), conducted rhapsodically by Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, their director for a quarter-century or so, and available for about US$10 only from the Choir
website.

Flatting is a ubiquitous failing of boychoirs, but there is only one brief passing moment of it here. Otherwise, these performances clean the clocks of the other recordings I know, including mixed choirs both large and small, other all-male choirs, and the OVPP disc of Cantus Colln (which IMO is relegated by the Tolzer CD to the status of an estimable novelty).

Much as I love my old LPs, when authenticity is combined with this quality of performance I find the result unbeatable.

Robert Sherman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] Bach's music is one of the ultimate glories of civilization. While we may disagree on how it should be performed, these disagreements should be expressed in a civilized way, without personal attacks or name-calling. Since Johan appears not to understand this, I see no purpose in responding to him further.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 18, 2003):
Steven Guy says: >>> It seems a little pedantic to me to suggest that OVPP recordings and performances with female sopranos and altos are more 'authentic' or HIP than recordings with small choirs will all male voices. <<<
Well, is it pedantic to say that, for instance, a performance of one of Beethoven's string quartets is closer to Beethoven's intentions when performed by four musicians (whether or period or modern strings) than when performed by a string orchestra?

The Cleveland Orchestra took a transcription (for strings only) of a Beethoven quartet on its last tour. It was stunningly beautiful, but the music sounded like an expertly crafted statement for a single organism rather than an extended exchange between four (very close) musicians, as is usually the case when a string quartet performs it.

The string orchestra version was by no means illegitimate, but no one claims that it reflects Beethoven's intentions -- or even that it would be better to perform Beethoven's quartets that way as a matter of course.

>>> > I mentioned earlier that some of the choruses in the St Matthew Passion > have solo and tutti marks - at least the Bachs Gesellschaft Edition has! [snip citation of "So ist mein Jesu'] <<<
Of course, the Bachs Gesellschaft Edition isn't Bach's source material. It's an edition prepared well over a century after Bach's death.

What led Rifkin even to think of the OVPP argument in the first place is that Bach's autograph materials do not (except in a few specific cases) contain such solo/tutti or favoriti/ripieni markings.

>>> cantatas like Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn BWV 119 or Wir danken dir, Gott BWV 29, for instance, seem to be crying out to be performed by slightly larger vocal forces <<<
I understand that BWV 29 is one of the works where the autograph sources include ripieno parts that double the concertists' (soloists') parts in all the choruses. (Makes sense to me -- that first chorus isn't full of 16th notes that three or four singers in a section would have to execute in unison.)

>>> Cantatas like Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV 4 require a cornetto and three trombones (alto, tenor and bass) to double the voices in several movements. I feel that OVPP would be very hazardous in such a situation - it would be so easy to simply render the boy soprano inaudible. <<<

Jeffrey Thomas and the American Bach Soloists recorded it that way (granted, with Judith Nelson rather than a boy on the soprano line). I thought it worked
well.

>>> I tend to feel that the OVPP practice has been over-sold ... It is defended far too vehemently for my tastes ... If performers were a little less dogmatic about the OVPP concept then I think they would not arouse so much heated debate. <<<
It has always seemed to me that OVPP has been attacked (and/or ridiculed) more vehemently than it has been defended.

I'm sorry -- and I do not mean to single out Steven here, because many commentators say the same sort of thing (in his Gramophone review of McCreesh's SMP, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood refers to "the band of zealots who seek world domination in the field of Bach vocal performance") -- but I just won't be able to take those arguments seriously until OVPP Bach performance becomes as common in concert and on recording -- and as securely funded -- as choral Bach performance is. Until, for instance, Deutsche Grammophon no longer feels it has to call its own OVPP St. Matthew Passion "radical".

Greg Angsten wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] You folks don't get out much, do you? This thread wouldn't even make it into the flame category on any other list. Personally, I'm getting a kick out of remarks like, You seem to think that every performer can do what he likes. Thais not acceptable to me.

People probably said that to Gould. Well, as a non-musician but ardent Bach lover, I've learned a useful thing or two from this busy list, but my only advice is not to worry too much about a little spat, it keeps things lively. God knows, people can get carried away listening to themselves talk here.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 18, 2003):
< Matthew Westphal wrote:
Steven Guy says: >>> It seems a little pedantic to me to suggest that OVPP recordings and performances with female sopranos and altos are more 'authentic' or HIP than recordings with small choirs will all male voices. <<<
Well, is it pedantic to say that, for instance, a performance of one of Beethoven's string quartets is closer to Beethoven's intentions when performed by four musicians (whether or period or modern strings) than when performed by a string orchestra? >
I think you are missing the point here. Steven criticises the concentration on the size of the 'choir' and the complete neglect of the kind of voices used.So let me correct your comparison: what is closer to Beethoven's intentions, a string quartet played by a full string orchestra or played by four wind instruments?

Robert Sherman wrote (April 18, 2003):
[To Greg Angsten] For whatever it may be worth, I've spent 25 years earning my living on U.S. Congressional staff as a senior national security specialist and election campaigner, and now 10 years as a U.S. govt negotiator on landmine policy. With hundreds of billions of dollars, tens of thousands of lives, and partisan control of Congress at stake, cause for personal animosities in those areas runs somewhat higher than in debates about what kind of soprano voices to use. Whether that constitutes "getting out much" in your judgment is up to you.

Under the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, derogatory personal remarks about another participant in debate such as Johan's are stricken from the record, and the person making them is barred from speaking for the rest of the day. We don't have to follow those rules, of course. But we will have better discussions if we treat each other with respect.

For my part I don't "worry" about spats; I just have no interest in degrading the debate with name-calling.

I won't discuss this further. Let's get back to the music.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2003):
< Matthew Westphal wrote: It has always seemed to me that OVPP has been attacked (and/or ridiculed) more vehemently than it has been defended. >
I had Parrott's recording of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) on in the car last weekend, and my wife said she really missed hearing a choir. I defended it by saying something like, "Yeah, I do too, but at least these people are playing and singing it really well...." :)

Jim Morrison wrote (April 18, 2003):
Excuse a newbie asking what's probably an old question, but where does the force for the argument of using boys and not female's in Bach's cantatas. I can think of a few possible ways to go.

1. Simply stated, it just sounds better/best this way with boys. ( I leave open the possibility that this case states nothing more than a gut' level preference, or perhaps an intimate compositional understanding of what music written for boys should sound like or some combination of the two or, etc, etc. See number 4 for more on this issue.)

2. The music sounds horrible/bad/unredeemable with females singing the boy parts. (This seems to me a bit different claim than 1, which simply says how the music sounds best. Number 1 leaves open the possibility that females sound good, but that boys sound even better, and that music makers should be in the business of making the best music possible and therefore use boys instead of females.)

3. Bach heard and conducted it this way and so we should follow his wishes as best we can, as we should with other period performance practice issues.

4. Bach did more than conduct the music this way, simply following the limitations of his day concerning who could and could not sing in the group; he actually composed the music in such a way that boys make much better music singing these lines than do females.

The last claim is one that particularly interests me. Has anyone ever claimed this? Anyone said that they can tell the compositional difference between music written for boys and music written for females? If there is a clear difference, then I think we've started going down a path where the argument is pretty strong for using boys at least some of the time. If people can't tell the difference between the two, then Jim, Bach enthusiast that can't even read music, starts to think that the question of boy or no boy is becoming one more about personal listening preferences and less about Bach's music. Can people tell the different between music written for female alto and male alto?

Another question, could someone make an analogous argument for using boys with using period instruments in general? Are boy voices in effect no different than harpsichords and period violins? How does the case for saying Bach's English Suites sound better on harpsichord than on piano differ from saying Bach's vocal music sounds better sung by boys than by females?

How do OVPP strong defenders such as Rifkin counter the criticism "hey, what's up with the females? I thought you were a purist?"

Please forgive any over/gross simplification on my part; I'm new to the subject and I know that my extremely liberal taste of what is and is not allowable in music could not be swayed over to the position that we should exclude women from singing some of these parts that we know were sung by boys. No way I could go for that. Bach on synthesizer is fine with me, though I prefer the harpsichord. As some of us keep saying "If it sounds good, it is good" and that's another way I could say "don't let anybody tell you what you're doing is wrong because you just made moving music and that's the most important thing."

Jim (in case you didn't know I'm a big fan of Brad's posts)

PS: I just picked up Herreweghe's Monteverdi Missa in illo tempore. Anybody else blown away by this disc like I've been, particularly the credo from the disc's title work?

Gene Hanson wrote (April 19, 2003):
< Robert Sherman wrote: Bach's music is one of the ultimate glories of civilization. While we may disagree on how it should be performed, these disagreements should expressed in a civilized way, without personal attacks or name-calling. Since Johan appears not to understand this, I see no purpose in responding to him further. >
That's nothing compared to what goes on on some other lists I'm on (and I must admit I sometimes am guilty of name calling, when I encounter real stupidity).

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Gene Hanson] Funny thing is my two favorite Bach Passions recordings, if I must make such a choice, you all know, the desert island thing, are the Gillesberger Johannes (BWV 245) and the Scherchen Matthäus (BWV 244). Although we all know what is authentic, there are many ways to enjoy Bach and even though I do not like Richter's Passions, I certainly respect Bob Sherman's great enjoyment of them. I also stay away on the whole from participation both bc. of the musical and the religious intolerance that appears here. I also find it odd that the vocal Bach is not one list, but I know the reasons for the cantata list, yet cannot adjust my Bach to the Lutheran calendar.

Gene Hanson wrote (April 19, 2003):
< Robert Sherman wrote: Under the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, derogatory personal remarks about another participant in debate such as Johan's are stricken from the record, and the person making them is barred from speaking for the rest of the day. We don't have to follow those rules, of course. But we will have better discussions if we treat each other with respect. >
We can't follw those rules on the net. But I agree with your last point. (Sometimes, though, it is really hard to do so.)

Boyd Pehrson wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] I didn't read this post in Bach Recordings. I do subscribe to BR, however, with more posts like this one from "Shermaro" coming in more often, I backed off from logging into the posts there.

Am I to assume he is equating Bach's use of boys' voices with Wagner supposedly not wanting to use Jewish musicians? First, Wagner didn't stop Jews from singing and playing in his operas! That is a false idea with no basis in fact. Hermann Levi was the conductor who opened Parsifal for Wagner, and he conducted them each season but for one. Wagner had Jewish friends, conductors, musicians, benefactors and paramours!... in spite of Wagner's outspoken anti-semitism! Not only did Wagner write terrible things about the Jews, but he also wrote in praise of them, and was praised by King Ludwig for his tolerance of Jews. It is widely believed that Wagner himself had Jewish roots, as did his wife Cosima. Some believe Wagner may have been trying to distance himself from his Jewish roots by writing his harsh rhetoric. So, Wagner is a complex situation, and for someone to say "Wagner would probably have been deeply offended at the thought of Jews singing his operas" goes completely against the historical record, a record that shows Wagner asking for Jews to play for him! One "Shermaro" needs to go back and read about Wagner instead of creating poorly reasoned arguments from false premises.

Some twenty years after Wagner wrote anti-semitic ideas, there is this:"Conductor Hermann Levi, in letters to his father, a chief rabbi in the town of Giessen, writes of his time preparing for the first Bayreuth Festival: "Wagner is the best and noblest of men ... I thank God daily for the privilege to be close to such a man. It is the most beautiful experience of my life." (April, 1882) "The Wagners are so good to me that I am quite touched. I arrived here on June 12th and from that day until July 1st I have lunched and dined every day at Wahnfried. Frequently I called at 12 noon and left only at midnight."(July 1882) "...I refuse even to consider whether I deserve an order or any other kind of recognition for "Parsifal". As for my "prestige", I have plenty of that and I feel ... that I am far too well off as it is. Moreover, I have no idea what they could give me. The Order of merit is the appropriate award of the Bavarian Crown, but that might be rather awkward, considering my name is Levi".(November 1882). (Source: http://www.revolve.com.au/polemic/wagner.html )

I am not trying to engage in an apologetic for Wagner here. Only I am pointing out how "Shermaro" is not basing his (false) argument on any facts. Unfortunately "Shermaro's" manner of argument is too often the case when people speak against the use of boys voices. It is a grasping of straws, and much bad information
is issued as a result.

Thank you for correcting this person Johan.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (April 19, 2003):
I agree with Bob. One of the exciting, dynamic roles of the BCML and BRML is to engage members with all sorts of views. This stimulates dialogue and knowledge. One cannot erase history and say HIP is the only course to follow. We might as well live in an Orwellian world where there are no choices. With choice we can respect and learn from everybody, past and present. And I believe that right now we are in a sort of HIP and non-HIP hybrid; for example, look at Harnoncourt's SMP (BWV 244) from the 1970's and compare his changes in his new 21st century version.

Bach would be pleased with all the attention he is getting, both HIP and non-HIP. Hey, if he knew about all the new interpretations, he would try them too! :)

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 19, 2003):
Johan says: >>> I think you are missing the point here. Steven criticises the concentration on the size of the 'choir' and the complete neglect of the kind of voices used. So let me correct your comparison: what is closer to Beethoven's intentions, a string quartet played by a full string orchestra or played by four wind instruments? <<<
My impression was that Steven was criticizing both the small number and the type of voices.

In any case, wouldn't a better analogy be a full string orchestra versus a violin, viola, cello with, say, oboe or flute on the top line? (Perhaps that's a good illustration of the way at least some adult sopranos blend with their alto, tenor and bass counterparts in at least some Baroque music performances.)

My feeling about using boys (especially as soloists) in Bach's music today is practical/aesthetic. Obviously Bach had boys up to the demands of the music he was writing for them. (He was, after all, mostly writing it for them for performances he was directing himself.) But when I hear boys today singing Bach -- boys almost always a few years younger than the ones Bach had, because boys' voices in the developed world usually break by age 12 or 13 today, not 15 or 16 -- it mostly sounds to me like they're struggling just to get through it, and that's just not good enough to satisfy me.

My own preference in Bach is for adults who could just possibly pass for boys in terms of timbre (the "come as close as you can" approach), but who have more solid technique and more developed interpretive skills -- e.g. Ruth Holton, Tessa Bonner, Dorothee Mields, perhaps Deborah York, Johanna Koslowsky, Susanne Ryden and Maria Cristina Kiehr as well. But it seems there aren't quite enough of those singers to go around.

I know Johan and some others on the List strongly disagree with me on this, and we just have to agree to disagree. In terms of enjoying Bach, in the end it really does come down to personal preference -- "If it sounds good, it IS good" (and the corollary "If it sounds better, it IS better"). We simply don't all agree on what sounds good. That's human nature.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 19, 2003):
Jim says: >>> How do OVPP strong defenders such as Rifkin counter the criticism "hey, what's up with the females? I thought you were a purist?" <<<
I suspect that Rifkin, Parrott and McCreesh wouldn't agree that they are "purists" (what exactly does that mean, anyway?). In any case, I believe the usual answer to that criticism is something along the lines of, "Well, 14-or-15-or-16-year-old boys who still have their treble voices and have also had steady training in the European classical music tradition since the age of 7 or 8 are pretty much extinct nowadays. The adult females we use are our preference from among several imperfect substitutes."

Juozas Rimas wrote (April 19, 2003):
< Matthew Westphal wrote: I know Johan and some others on the List strongly disagree with me on this, and we just have to agree to disagree. In terms of enjoying Bach, in the end it really does come down to personal preference -- "If it sounds good, it IS good" (and the corollary "If it sounds better, it IS better"). We simply don't all agree on what sounds good. That's human nature. >
Is this women versus boys issue really that subjective? Why aren't we adoring 12-year pianists as seriously as we adore adult pianists? Perhaps because practice never hurts and every talent only matures over years? Perhaps because musicianship is not only about nailing the notes correctly but also about listening to lots of music, assessing many interpretations to pick up interesting musical ideas, educating oneself in the broadest sense, creating one's own style of performing, experiencing love, sorrow and other events of life that give emotional depth to the artist's personality and other issues that aren't usually associated with kids? I don't think it's possible that a musician deteriorates as she matures, unless she quits practicing or loses her voice, mental sanity etc. Therefore I always look for a woman soprano in Bach's solo vocal works.

Jim Morrison wrote (April 19, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal] Thanks Matthew,

How about a nice quote from Parrott himself. (Parrott the impure/nonpure/no understandable relationship with purity?)

'I prefer to use women rather than boys as a rule, because today's young trebles are much younger than the boys of the Thomasschule, who were enrolled at the age of 13 or 14 and carried on singing until they were around 16, and because English trebles are unlikely to be able to sing in Germawith the conviction which I believe is necessary for this music, in which the words are so important. Assigning just one voice to a part gives much more flexibility and clarity than conventional choral forces. It's not a question of economy, but of employing appropriate resources for the music; a string quartet, for example, is not a pared-down orchestra but a different medium altogether.'

Robert Sherman wrote (April 20, 2003):
[To Juozas Rimas] I agree, and also prefer the warmth and depth of a woman's voice. By the same reasoning, I almost always prefer a female alto, even though mentally and technically mature males are available in that pitch.

Santu De Silva wrote (April 21, 2003):
< Johan van Veen wrote: I am never telling anyone what to do. But I have the right to say why I think they should - from an artistic and > historical point of view - do.

You seem to think that every performer can do what he likes. That is not acceptable to me. I can only accept interpretations that are historically justified and pay respect - as far as possible - to the intentions and the performing habits of the composer. >
I strongly disagree, except for the particular case of a public or ceremonial performance at an event that people must attend; that is, an event such as a memorial service, or Good Friday performance as part of regular worship.

In such situations, I think the style of performance should be agreed upon by all concerned, and I would personally support most of what Johan van Veen says. But recordings? Why get upset if the cantatas are performed by trained kangaroos? (Or untrained ones, for that matter.)

We have to carefully describe the circumstances under which we would get offended with one style of performance or another. I, personally, get offended when it's unexpected. Such as a Wagnerian tenor singing the narrative in the Matthew Passion. Such things rarely happen.

It would be wonderful to hear the Matthew-Passion (BWV 244) sung with boys, I agree. So I could agree with "someone SHOULD sing it that way, because I want to buy the recording!" But to say that the respectful way to sing Bach IS with boy trebles, and all recordings SHOULD be made that way, I think (while everyone is welcome to their opinion), that modern society is simply not friendly towards such 'voices crying in the wilderness.' It's like saying, only born again Christians should sing cantatas. Sure, many hold that view. But -- it can only be a preference. Perhaps a strong recommendation.

Jeremy Thomas wrote (April 21, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] Indeed. And dress like Bach's audience would have dressed, eat what they ate, bath only once a month (whether we need it or not)...

LOL

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2003):
< Santu De Silva wrote: But to say that the respectful way to sing Bach IS with boy trebles, and all recordings SHOULD be made that way, I think (while everyone is welcome to their opinion), that modern society is simply not friendly towards such 'voices crying in the wilderness.' It's like saying, only born again Christians should sing cantatas. Sure, many hold that view. But -- it can only be a preference. Perhaps a strong recommendation. >
It is not for the first time that I have noticed that many people have great trouble in accepting someone expressing his views with terms like "should". I wonder why that is the case.

If I say "should" I am not saying that any other way is forbidden. It has to be read in relation to what I want to achieve. My view is that every performance should be as close to the intentions and the performing habits of the composer and/or his time. For me that is a matter of principle - historically and morally. From that point of view I believe interpreters should use period instruments and voices that are able to sing in accordance with contemporary habits.

I still can't figure out what is so upsetting in using a term like "should".
Only people who don't care what interpreters are doing as long as they personally like the result never should say "should".

Santu De Silva wrote (April 22, 2003):
I wrote: << But to say that the respectful way to sing Bach IS with boy trebles, and all recordings SHOULD be made that way, I think (while everyone is welcome to their opinion), that modern society is simply not friendly towards such 'voices crying in the wilderness.' It's like saying, only born again Christians should sing cantatas. Sure, many hold that view. But -- it can only be a preference. Perhaps a strong recommendation. <
Johan replied: < It is not for the first time that I have noticed that many people have great trouble in accepting someone expressing his views with terms like "should". I wonder why that is the case. If I say "should" I am not saying that any other way is forbidden. It has to be read in relation to what I want to achieve. >
I accept.

The problem is that one wonders, what will Johan think if I just did it another way?

There are responses that range from:
(A) "Well, that's his business,"
or:
(B) "That's certainly a poor choice, and not appropriate. But some like it that way. I wish I had known; I would not have wasted my time."
or even:
(C) "The fool has ruined it; he should have known better. It is inexcusable!"

If I see someone use the word "should" i would assume that they felt like (C), and vice versa. It is just my understanding of the particular flavor of the word "should" used in this kind of context. This is NOT a criticism of your use of the word.

Henceforth I will not raise the issue.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 22, 2003):
[To Santu De Silva] My remarks were not specifically directed towards you, more in general and even more specifically a reply to those who have criticised my earlier postings.

Of course, the correct interpretation of the word "should" is (C), although I would never use words like "fool" to describe interpreters I don't like.

My principle is that every interpretation should try to bring across the content, the message if you wish, of the music of whatever composer - it doesn't matter whether that composer is of the 18th or of the 20th century. And I firmly believe that the composer knew better than anyone else how to bring that content across. And I also believe that using the same performance habits (=performance practice) and performance tools (=instruments and voices) as the composer has used is the best way of coming close to communicating the content of the music.

Whether a performer "ruins" the work he performs isn't simply a matter of using the "wrong" instruments or voices or performance practice. I know enough HIP performances which ruin Bach's music because the performers lack some knowledge (for instance, knowledge of the German culture and language or the religious background of Bach's music) or don't have the skills (like the correct pronunciation) they need.

Just to sum up: the content or message always comes first. The "correct" performance practice and instruments are the best tools to communicate that content or message. For me that is the criterion for every performance of any kind of music.



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