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Women in Bach’s Vocal Works
Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Gender and Bach singers

Continue of discussion from: Voice Types [General Topics]

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 25, 2005):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< This is an answer to a different question. My question is WHY the sound in the Baroque was what it was. Was it a) because boys are better musicians than adult women? b) because boys produce an aesthetically better sound? Or c) because, according to the social standards of the time, using women was simply not possible? And the answers:
a) An adult woman will normally be a much better musician than a young boy.
b) The question of aesthetics is one of taste - we can't speak of absolutes here.
c) It was indeed impossible to use women because of the social standards of the time.
Again, the use of boys back in Baroque times was based more or less exclusively on reasons that had NOTHING to do with music. Since those reasons no longer obtain - in most circles where Baroque music is sung, there is no chance that it will appear immoral to anyone present to have men and women singing together - the thing to do would be to use the singer who will produce the better musical results. Our own tastes in tone quality cannot be the deciding factor. >
Where does theology end and patriarchy begin? Christianity is far from alone in assigning in the past different roles in religious celebration to the respective genders. (The difference is in celebration, not essence. There is no difference in Christianity between a male or female soul.) Frankly, I think this issue is more about sexuality in the bluntest sense rather than hierarchy, but for such matters we now have Women Studies Departments in almost every university in the Western World.

One issue I think is being missed however. While this too may be non-musical, there was a long identification of children and innocence in Christianity. When Bach talked about his "choir of angels" I think this is exactly what he was getting at. Let's not forget that the center of the Bach choir was not made up of males but of boys. (Maybe this is "ageism": how I loathe jargon.) On Saturday night I was talking to a member of the American Bach Soloists. I asked her if she knew of any OVPP groups in the country that had ever tried using even one boy. She said she hadn't but noted that it was obvious from the way that Bach composed some of his arias that they were intended for the voice of a boy.

But as I have no doubt tediously lamented on this list, Ms. Thornton need have no concerns. At least at the highest level boys are out the door completely and female sopranos have replaced them. If you want to bounce counter-tenors and replace them with mezzos, I'll go along with that. But if there are any antiquarians out there that have the slightest interest in hearing something that might resemble what the parishioners at St. Thomas' heard in Bach's time do not burn your copies of Harnoncourt's original series. We may get more beautiful music. It may be more socially acceptable. But it is not going to sound like what was composed by Bach. If the musical marketplace is speaking here, no one seems to care very much about that. So much for HIP.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (January 25, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
"I asked her if she knew of any OVPP groups in the country that had ever tried using even one boy. She said she hadn't but noted that it was obvious from the way that Bach composed some of his arias that they were intended for the voice of a boy."
Eric, like you I would be most interested in an OVPP recording with boy(s) - pace Doug, I have it on authority much greater than mine that it is by no means certain that Bach never used adult male altos - and I have been discussing this very idea with a recording company in the UK that I am currently working with. Interestingly, given that cathedral and collegiate choirs are where one finds he most able and experienced boy trebles in this country (and arguably, the world) a very experienced cathedral organist recently told me that in the last five years he had probably only had three boys who would have been capable of successfully undertaking such a CD project. This is not to suggest that today's boys are less able than Bach's were, but that the demands on their time and energies are much greater, the size of the repertoire they are expected to master much bigger, that only the most exceptional singers would be up to such a demanding undertaking.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 25, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
< Eric, like you I would be most interested in an OVPP recording with boy(s) - pace Doug, I have it on authority much greater than mine that it is by no means certain that Bach never used adult male altos - and I have been discussing this very idea with a recording company in the UK that I am currently working with. >
I would be very interested in any scholarship on the subject. The question of Baroque voice types is very complex. The period had an obsession with exotic voicings and the modern leveling which goes on even in HIP does no justice to the period.

For instance, who sang "Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen" -- a castrato in Dresden? a boy in Leipzig? The cantata is so unlike anything else in Bach's oeuvre that is a real stretch to think that Bach had a 12 yr old ready to take it on. And yet we have all encountered child prodigies -- perhaps Bach did have a prodigy that year.

So much work has been done on the musical aspects of Bach's art that we tend to forget about the social and religious matrix in which he worked. Even HIP are now totally subserivient to the protocols of the modern concert hall that we have really have lost the rhythm of the academic and ecclesiastical institutions which inspired his work.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (January 25, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
"I would be very interested in any scholarship on the subject."
It was a passing remark made to be by an academic so I don't know waht the scholarly basis for his comment was, unfortunately. It would indeed be interesting to know more.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 25, 2005):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Didn't Rifkin argue that Bach was above all interested in quality as opposed to quantity in his choirs and that OVPP fit that bill? I find it hard to believe that in the entire world a record company couldn't find say two boys to sing with two adults in an OVPP cantata. I should think some of the kids would get a real kick out of being recorded - might even skip soccer practice.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 25, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] But children are not recognized as artists in the modern (read 19th century) concert hall. Further they might remind audiences that Bach's works were written for the church and shake the assumptions about 'timeless works of art" safely extracted from their historical context and presented new secular temples of culture.

Johan van Veen wrote (January 25, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] Boys from the Tölzer Knabenchor regularly sing the solo parts in Bach's oratorios, so why shouldn't they be capable of singing all parts in an OVPP performance of cantatas? I suppose it has more to do with the question whether a record company is ready to take the risk of releasing such a recording, in particular since many people seem to have a rather negative attitude towards boys' voices in classical music.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (January 25, 2005):
Johan van Veen writes:
"Boys from the Tölzer Knabenchor regularly sing the solo parts in Bach's oratorios, so why shouldn't they be capable of singing all parts in an OVPP performance of cantatas? I suppose it has more to do with the question whether a record company is ready to take the risk of releasing such a recording, in particular since many people seem to have a rather negative attitude towards boys' voices in classical music."
Indeed they should - and being a concert choir, are better placed to do so than a cathedral choir in the UK (which is what I was discussing with a colleague) with its heavier daily schedule. Certainly, the athat boys are lacking in the requisite musical intelligence is one that I resist.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 25, 2005):
Gender & Age

Bradley Lehman wrote:
<< Women did not sing alto in church music except in the unique situation of Vivaldi's Pieta choir where the women sang everything -- soprano, alto, tenor AND bass! Women of course sang in opera where every voice type was encountered. There were even female coloratura altos. >>
< Likewise, and for similar reasons of the original performance conditions, I'm still hoping to hear an all-female performance of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" someday. The Aeneas part does go down only to tenor D, which is well within reach. >
We are so completely under the spell of 19th century opera and stage conventions that we have all but lost the importance which dramatic tensions about gender and age play in the Baroque.

All of Shakespearean heroines were played by young men: in Twelfth Night there is even a man playing a woman playing a man. The dramatic company of the Choirboys of St, Paul's Cathedral were famous for their mainstream performances of plays. Ben Jonson wrote a sonnet on death of a boy who was renowned for taking the parts of old men.

Where we are nervous about "cross-dressing" and "transvestitism", the Baroque was fascinated with gender and age confusion. In Purcell and Vivaldi's girls' schools, audiences paid to see girls and young women in the their 20's singing and acting male roles. The confusion of sexual roles and voices was even more marked in opera where the castrati gave new meaning to gender-benders. When Händel's "Giulio Cesare" was revived for Beverly Sills in the 1960's, the part of Caesar was transposed down so a bass could sing it. Women like Marilyn Horne were singing alto roles like "Rinaldo" a lot earlier than Daniel Taylor. We are still uneasy about hearing heroic masculinity expressed by a counter-tenor

The Baroque love of cross-dressing suivived in a number of operas most famously in Cherubino in Figaro. Although many singers trash the role dramatically by butching it up, anyone who has seen Frederica Von Stade perform it knows how the tension between sexual roles can be handled by a sensitive artist. She even managed the scene where Cherubino is dressed as a woman! And of course, there is Rosenkavalier where men are all but banished from the stage and three sopranos sing the most erotic music to each other.

We don't have much sense of how Bach would have worked in this convention other than in the "dramma per musica" of the secular cantatas which aren't particularly sexy. But there are moments in the cantatas where age and gender are important dramatic components. I'm thinking here of the two duets for soprano and bass in "Wachet Auf". The first duet in particular, with its ecstatic violin solo, is a superb example of how eroticism was put into play in a religious context. I'd be interested to see how many of us would be comfortable with the sight of an adult bass singing it with a 10 yr old boy. There are lots of other examples of erotic Song of Songs type texts being sung by prepubescent boys. "Komm in meines Herzenshaus" from Cantata BWV 80 and "Wo is mein Jesus" from the SMP (BWV 244) come to mind.

I doubt very much that overt titillation was a factor in Bach -- it certainly was in opera -- but Bach was certainly sensitive to the creative tension inherent in Baroque dramatic conventions.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 25, 2005):
< I doubt very much that overt titillation was a factor in Bach -- it certainly was in opera -- but Bach was certainly sensitive to the creative tension inherent in Baroque dramatic conventions. >
Not to neglect that the performances of Bach's vocal music were normally done from balconies, where the congregation could not see any of the singers or players. Consequently, all the interpretation of the music has/had to be clear in the sound alone, and not in any visual acting cues. (Gestural delivery of the phrasing and accentuation, the musical rhetoric, etc.) Consequently, the music itself had/has to include more focus than even a typical operatic composition would have, since all the visual element is for naught.

As a perhaps crass comparison: does Britney Spears's music sound like a complete package in only the sound, with all the staged visual "emoting" and dancing removed? I don't think so.

Sw Anandgyan wrote (January 25, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Didn't Rifkin argue that Bach was above all interested in quality as opposed to quantity in his choirs and that OVPP fit that bill? I find it hard to believe that in the entire world a record company couldn't find say two boys to sing with two adults in an OVPP cantata. I should think some of the kids would get a real kick out of being recorded - might even skip soccer practice. >
Greetings Eric and everyone ...

Have you come across the Heinrich Schütz Kleine geistliche Konzerte recording by Concerto Vocale on HM?

It has René Jacobs, the adult alto, and Sebastian Henning, a boy soprano, with a continuo and that's it.

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 25, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Not to neglect that the performances of Bach's vocal music were normally done from balconies, where the congregation could not see any of the singers or players. Consequently, all the interpretation of the music has/had to be clear in the sound alone, and not in any visual acting cues. (Gestural delivery of the phrasing and accentuation, the musical rhetoric, etc.) Consequently, the music itself had/has to include more focus than even a typical operatic composition would have, since all the visual element is for naught. >
I admit to playing mind games trying to reconstruct a real Bach performance circa 1725. What did it sound like, what did it look like, was it cold inside, what was the air quality etc etc etc. One detail has me hung up. Would the parishioners been socially permitted to take a peak up at the musicians? (Get me my time machine and I will.) Maybe this would have been bad form or a sign that the parishioner was more interested in the show than the message. This is a bit akin to looking at the audience at performances today. I know it's bad form to do so, but I always check out the crowd (quickly and discretely of course) - it's part of the theater.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 26, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Would the parishioners been socially permitted to take a peak up at the musicians? >
I suspect that Lutherans were more decorous than their Roman counterparts: Church authorities in Italy had to issue warnings that worshippers at Vespers were not allowed to turn their chairs around so that they could watch the musicians in the rear gallery with their backs to the altar. There were also complaints that, prevented from applauding in church, people would silently wave their handkerchiefs after solos. The singers, in turn, would take a bow by waving their music. In St. Thomas, it would have been easy for the parishioners in the upper galleries of the nave to watch the performers. The interior of the church was not unlike a horsehoe-shaped opera-house with the musicians in what we would call the royal box.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 26, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>In St. Thomas, it would have been easy for the parishioners in the upper galleries of the nave to watch the performers. The interior of the church was not unlike a horsehoe-shaped opera-house with the musicians in what we would call the royal box.<<
According to Arnold Schering ["Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik" Leipzig, 1936, p. 155 & 161] "All attempts to obtain the necessary documents (floor plan, detailed descriptions, etc.) needed to determine what the inner space of St. Thomas Church really looked like were unsuccessful." And "The organ balcony and choir space did not project visibly into the church but rather were part of an area that was completely separate from the congregation. They were situated 'on the third story' [in German "im zweiten S"] high above the major stone balcony and probably were even set back a bit from the latter. The major stone balcony was 31 to 32 meters below. The nave which the organ balcony and "Schülerchor" overlooked housed primarily the "Weiberstühle" [chairs or pews for women only] which faced the altar [the opposite direction of where the music balconies were situated.] Some men sat in the balconies on either side under which was a second balcony for university students. [not very clearly shown in an engraving by Friedrich Groschuff (1710.)]
The sound of the choir and music came from a greater distance and height than in the other churches of Leipzig."

Schering has a sketched his idea what the music balconies must have looked like. It would be very difficult to see any musicians from below unless they were standing right at the edge of the balcony where only their heads might be visible. As far as being visible to the men in the side balconies, it is necessary to take into consideration that the musicians were one balcony higher than any other balcony used by the men in the congregation.

Doug Cowling wrote (January 26, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< As far as being visible to the men in the side balconies, it is necessary to take into consideration that the musicians were one balcony higher than any other balcony used by the men in the congregation. >
I thought there were two galleries in the nave.

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 26, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Andrew Parrott, on p. 21 of "The Essential Bach Choir" [Boydell, 2000] reproduces Schering's conjectural plan which shows extensions on either side beyond the columns where Schering indicates that the musicians (other than the boys in the choir) would stand.

Unfortunately, I could not find in Parrott's book (perhaps I missed it when glancing through it just now) the view of the church nave from the above conjectured balconies toward the altar in an engraving by Friedrich Groschuff [Leipzig, 1710.] But nevertheless, even with this engraving there are still many unanswered questions regarding the inner space (and acoustics) of St. Thomas Church before a major renovation took place in 1740.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 26, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling & Gabriel Jackson] One among current myths is that "no boy is capable of singing the soprano aria of Cantata BWV 51: Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen!" ...a myth that is of course rubbish. The solo is difficult but not insurmountable for any well-trained boy singer. The BachCantatas Yahoo group site has in its file section BWV 51's solo performed by boy soprano: Clint Van Der Linde of the Drakensberg Boys' Choir: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/ although the South African orchestra doesn't quite fill the need for an authentic Baroque performance practice.

Max Cencic of the Vienna Boys choir also recorded the BWV 51 soprano aria. The Pacific Boychoir in Oakland, California currently has a boy recording this work with copies of original instruments; the trumpet is 350 years old and played by a professional from New York. If one demands an Arleen Augér style of singer for their performance, then, NO. No boy will sound like Arleen Augér. But, any well-trained and talented boy singer can perform Bach at the highest levels, and they still do these days. Bach worked for 27 years with the St Thomas Church boychoir in Leipzig. Any church that really wants to do so may put together a Bach performance these days. Will it sound "perfect?" That depends on one's perception of perfection.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 26, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud & Gabriel Jackson] Are you referring to Adult male altos below?

Regrading the broader topic of age in choir forces:Bach had on occasion used an adult male soprano (See the New Bach Reader). Richard Petzoldt's history of the Thomanerchor (pg.37ff) shows that Thomas Cantor J.S. Bach's former choirboy pupil and successor from Freiberg, Johann Friedrich Doles had as Thomas Cantor only two altos and three sopranos in a choir of 26 pupils. It seems the boys' voices were changing about 14 years of age in 1784 (Doles' memorandium of 1784). The basses and tenors then augmented the St Thomas choir's alto and soprano lines with falsetto singing for the Bach Cantatas performed under Doles. Doles was the Thomas Cantor present for Mozart's famous investigation of one of J.S. Bach's motets. There is a copy of Petzoldt's book available on loan from the San Francisco Public Library. You may try and cross reference the information with Wolfgang Hanke's "Die Thomaner" which is published in the German language.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (January 26, 2005):
Boyd Pehrson wrote:
"Hi Eric and Gabriel, and all, Are you referring to Adult male altos below?"
Yes, what we nowadays call countertenors (thoiugh I'm not keen on that term - it's confusing).

Doug Cowling wrote (January 26, 2005):
Boyd Pehrson wrote:
< The basses and tenors then augmented the St Thomas choir's alto and soprano lines with falsetto singing for the Bach Cantatas performed under Doles. >
Any indication which cantatas he performed?

Boyd Pehrson wrote (January 26, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] Petzhold's book doesn't say which of J.S. Bach's Cantatas were performed, only that information exists that at least parts of Bachs Passions and Cantatas were performed under Doles. Presumably also, Doles sung these as a pupil under J.S. Bach.

 

Emmas & the Boys

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 71 - Discussions

Doug Cowling wrote (February 10, 2005):
John Pike wrote:
< I could not warm to Harnoncourt's recording here. I was put off, once again, by the boy singers, who sometimes seemed to be struggling to reach the higher notes. The opening chords seemed more like screeches than audible notes. >
One of the interesting features of the period performance industry is that the white English sound of singers such Emma Kirkby, which was developed by conductors to revive the Renaissance music of Taverner and Sheppard, is now the established ideal for Bach. Although their training method was certainly influenced by bel canto technique, German boys typically sing with a full, somewhat rough tone which is light-years away from the overly-controlled, overly-mannered sound favoured as "authentic" Bach soprano sound. It's amazing how quickly this model and that of countertenors for altos has become normative in period performances of Bach.

Santu de Silva wrote (February 10, 2005):
Doug Cowling writes:
>>One of the interesting features of the period performance industry is that the white English sound of singers such Emma Kirkby, which was developed by conductors to revive the Renaissance music of Taverner and Sheppard, is now the established ideal for Bach.<<
Could you make clear what you mean here? To understand the thrust of your remarks, it's important to know whether (a) you say that it is "the established ideal for Bach" beyond all question, or (b) whether you observe that this is the established ideal in certain quarters, and * since I have been lax in not keeping careful track of everyone's opinion on the subject * whether you support the establishment of this ideal :)

>>Although their training method was certainly influenced by bel canto technique, German boys typically sing with a full, somewhat rough tone which is light-years away from the overly-controlled, overly-mannered sound favoured as "authentic" Bach soprano sound. It's amazing how quickly this model and that of countertenors for altos has become normative in period performances of B.<<
It appears that you're deploring the established ideal, but I'd like to be sure. We've all been through this particular debate, and though it makes a lot of sense to talk about it again, it would be nice to know exactly what you're preferences are.

As for myself, regardless of the received oscillating wisdom about these things, I like all three kinds of choirs: mixed-voice, with specially trained adult women singing the upper parts, boy's choirs with young boys singing the upper parts, and male voice choirs, with boys singing treble, and adult male altos singing alto.

(I believe a few of the other list members have also stated that they have heard performances of both, or all three, kinds, singing Bach, and have found themselves satisfied. So the list is not entirely polarized in this regard. Indeed, I must admit that I don't think anyone claimed that it was.)

The fact is that not all male-voice choirs sound the same, nor do the 'white English-sounding' mixed choirs all sound the same. I recently heard a wonderful mixed choir that I wanted to write about, but my poor memory betrayed me again.

Doug Cowling wrote (February 10, 2005):
Santu De Silva wrote:
< Could you make clear what you mean here? To understand the thrust of your remarks, it's important to know whether (a) you say that it is "the established ideal for Bach" beyond all question, or (b) whether you observe that this is the established ideal in certain quarters, and * since I have been lax in not keeping careful track of everyone's opinion on the subject * whether you support the establishment of this ideal :) >
I'm referring to the almost universal practice in "authentic" concert performances of Bach of using English-style women sopranos for both solo and choral work. My criticism here is that many Baroque musicians are very sniffy about using modern instruments in HIP but see no contradiction in employing adult female voices using a vocal technique developed for a wholly different kind of repertoire, i.e. English pre-reformation polyphony. It is rare in any review to see any criticism of this accepted "norm" while instrumentalists regularly have to submit to the most rigorous examination of their sound and performance technique.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (February 11, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] The lurker creepeth out...(am I offically a lurker?)

HIP is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Where it works, use it. Where it doesn't, don't.

It sounds convenient, and it is. But this is also the 21st century, for 21st century ears. No one within the HIP movement would deny that, neither would a supporter of this movement nor a composer for whom a large part of his short oeuvre are works written in the styles HIPers normally perform in. So if Caligula's violins (remember that metaphor from ages ago?) work better to our ears, then great. If Emma Kirkby's sound works better in this case, then I see no discrepancy either. (Her musicianship is of no concern here is it? I mean, it's not like she's the Queen of Baroque Music or something.... She is the Queen of Baroque Music, and rightly so-her immense musicianship is the foremost reason why her voice and her sound as produced elsewhere has become the norm in this music, historically accurate or not.)

As if this settles it...
Matt (who's still chuckin away at University-just going full-on into composition in every language under the western sun. Next up: Classicism. Sorry.)

John Pike wrote (February 11, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] I am a great fan of Emma Kirkby (and Ruth Holton) but my problem with some of the Harnoncourt recordings is most certainly NOT lack of authenticity; indeed, it's hard to imagine anything more authentic. My problem is that I just don't ENJOY the sound produced, and I struggle with the intonation problems.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (February 11, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] I am not sure that I understand what you are getting at. However the use of Women in any Bach Cantata is generally not HIP, Bach either got fired or at least stuck his next out on the executioners block when he allowed Maria Barbara (his wife) to sing in Mühlhausen (sp?) and while we will never know if this led to his leaving here---leave they did.

Furthermore I do not understand what you mean by English style. Bach had limited number of choristers, as well as seating room in the balcony and when he wrote an aria it was cheaper to use one of these boys or men than to go searching for a soloist all over Germany. IF they just happen to be in the area he used them.

As for HIP instruments; there are some very valid reasons to use them or replicas of them if one is seeking the same sounds that the composer probally heard. For instance the steel strings used on most string instruments today were not common and gut was more often used than not. Gut has a less powerful tone and different tone than steel does.

In performance: the Contrabass should never used or if used at all a Violone substituted and used only in the arias. The reason for this is that the sound is very ponderous, heavy and lugubrious and there is no real need for this instrument as all they do is plod along with the gambas playing the same notes. The over all sound of the string choirs are much lighter and better sounding when the Violone or Contrabass is left off.

For HIP performances yes we need gambas--not cellos they do not sound the same and the technique of playing a gamba is not quiet the same for a cello.

Then we also need Viole d'amore where Bach wrote for them usually 2 to 4 are adequate. The modern form of this has something to say for it's use in HIP performances as the instrument of Bach's time never was in tune for very long and contibuted to it's demise in the modern orchestra. Never substitute the Viola for them as the Viola does not have sympathetic strings that give the Viola d'amore it's special tonal qualties. In practice to maintain this sympathetic quality; I have my players tune to both d and e so that the strings sympathize with each other no matter what notes are being played. Normally only d major strings will do this.

In the woodwinds; we need to have Organs voice in the Baroque style with just the right among of chiff. The Organ is to be used not only as a solo instrument but always always used in accompanying arias and figured bass using something perhaps like a Hohlflote 8 or Rhorflote maybe spiked with a Sifflote 2' or 1'. NEVER NEVER use a Harpsichord in the performance of Bach's works unless there is no other choice--this is in line with Bach's on practices. Harpsichord was only used when the Organ was out of commissioned being repaired or tuned. NEVER NEVER NEVER use a piano. Bach never heard a Piano or even saw one until he was a very old man and had almost stopped composing. Sorry for you Glenn Gould fans but Bach never wrote anything for the Piano.

As for Oboes --we often find offenders who will use an English Horn for the Oboe d'amore and this should never happen in HIP. We also find the regular Oboe used in the place of the Oboe da cacccia---whose tone is rather course compare to the modern Oboe. Now we come to flutes; unless in the few rare cases that Bach wrote for the flauto traverso--or todays modern flute---the Blockflute should be used as it was

the standard flute of the day. Bach typically used the tenor, alto and rarely the soprano blockflute. Although the choice of woods is a personal matter to be perfectly HIP authentic the most exotic material would be Ivory otherwise one should have a instrument of the common woods available in Europe in the 17theand 18th centuries. I own a set of Rosewood Blockflotes that cost me a fancy price. I wish now I had never bought them because they crack and do not hold up to those of Maple, pear, apple etc.

OK if you are an English speaker we have some problems here---NEVER NEVER USE THE TERM "recorder" for the Blockflute --there are some very good reasons for not doing so including that the blockflute records nor practices anything and that it is a very confusing anachronistic term which was slang in day that should have never been used in modern times.

As for bassoon; we have few problems with this instrument in HIP performances other than not using the Boehm system of fingering---but that is perhaps going to a little extream and unreasonability in HIP.

As for brass: Natural Trumpets in D and E were the ones most often used by Bach. When ever possbible the fudging in this area because of lack of skills these days should be avoided. However, if a trumpeter just can not hit those high note of Bach and Handel then a Piccolo Trumpet must be used either in A or B flat.

Next we come to Horns: Bach almost never wrote for them but they should be of the natural type.

Trombones are another instrument Bach rarely wrote for although he had access to them. The modern trombone differs only so slightly from it's baroque predecessor as to make little difference in HIP.

As for percussion: typani should be stretched with calf membranes not plastic. Two tympani are more than adequate for most of Bach's works and any other Baroque composer.

Neil Halliday wrote (February 11, 2005):
Ludwig wrote:
<"....if one is seeking the same sounds that the composer probally heard.>"
There are of course, other criteria according to which people might wish to perform the master's music, accepted in some quarters at least.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 11, 2005):
Ludwig wrote:
< I am not sure that I understand what you are getting at. However the use of Women in any Bach Cantata is generally not HIP, Bach either got fired or at least stuck his next out on the executioners block when he allowed Maria Barbara(his wife) to sing in Mühlhausen (sp?) and while we will never know if this led to his leaving here---leave they did.
Furthermore I do not understand what you mean by English style. Bach had limited number of choristers, as well as seating room in the balcony and when he wrote an aria it was cheaper to use one of these boys or men than to go searching for a soloist all over Germany. IF they just happen to be in the area he used them. >
My reference to English-style women sopranos was not to Bach, who used the boys in the school, but to the modern acceptance of women using an English style of voice production as being the norm for HIP performances. There are a couple of Dutch and German sopranos who intentionally try to emulate the sound of German choir boys.

Santu De Silva wrote (February 11, 2005):
Santu de Silva wrote:
>> Could you make clear what you mean here? To understand the thrust of your remarks, it's important to know whether (a) you say that it is "the established ideal for Bach" beyond all question, or (b) whether you observe that this is the established ideal in certain quarters, and * since I have been lax in not keeping careful track of everyone's opinion on the subject * whether you support the establishment of this ideal :)<<
Doug Cowling replied:
>>I'm referring to the almost universal practice in "authentic" concert performances of Bach of using English-style women sopranos for both solo and choral work. My criticism here is that many Baroque musicians are very sniffy about using modern instruments in HIP but see no contradiction in employing adult female voices using a vocal technique developed for a wholly different kind of repertoire, i.e. English pre-reformation polyphony. It is rare in any review to see any criticism of this accepted "norm" while instrumentalists regularly have to submit to the most rigorous examination of their sound and performance technique.<<
This is very clear, and I now understand your point - - my apologies for being so obtuse, if that's the word I want.

[For my part, my interest in original intruments, or authentic instruments, is because I like the sound of them, I like the way they're played, and I like how Baroque music sounds on them. For the choirs, again my first criterion is whether I like the sound. The correctness of whether you use one kind of choir or another is of secondary importance, and so I have the liberty of being amused (or outraged, as the case may be) with the inconsistencies created or overlooked by more dogmatic or pedantic or rigid-viewed individuals.]

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 11, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] Sure. But as it stands, especially with OVPP catching on so quickly, nobody seems to want to hear Bach as it was originally performed. John recently mentioned that he respected the Harnoncourt series but couldn't like it. For me, the more I listen to cantatas, the more I hear Bach in Harnoncourt and the more I like them. The boys don't always work but when they do the sound is sublime. So it's ironic that the greatest HIP groups in the world are eliminating boys from the equation completely. Bernstein used boys but Suzuki, Herreweghe, Gardiner, Koopman and every OVPP group I can think of don't. Isn't there any place for boys in the world of recorded Bach chorale music anywhere? At present no. (I wish Cleobury and Goodman did cantatas.) Obviously I don't like the situation. I respectfully submit that there is good reason why other's shouldn't. The danger I see is a growing uniformity in approach will lead to a growing uniformity in sound. OVPP will accelerate this if four adults are always employed. I have enough Koopman and Suzuki recordings to compare their approach to Bach. Both are musically splendid. But if I had to do a blind "taste test" I wouldn't want anything important riding on my ability to distinguish one group from another. If one hear's an early Harnoncourt performance (or even Leusink's) next to a Suzuki the difference is significant. Isn't that good?

John Pike wrote (February 12, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< John recently mentioned that he respected the Harnoncourt series but couldn't like it. For me, the more I listen to cantatas, the more I hear Bach in Harnoncourt and the more I like them. >
I can understand why you got this impression but it over-simplifies my view. Some of Harnoncourt's recordings are SPLENDID. Most of the Leonhardt ones in the same series are excellent. Herreweghe was chorus master of Collegium Vocale Ghent in a number of the recordings and I am a great fan of his work. I just find the Harnoncourt recordings uneven. At their best, they are just wonderful and it is great to hear the cantatas as they were performed, but in the more difficult pieces, the boys sometimes seem to be struggling with the intonation, and there are several recordings in the cantata series that I find difficult IN PLACES for that reason.

Harnoncourt's most recent recording of the SMP (BWV 244) is one of my very favourites.

 

The fabled strange-maiden incident

Continue of discussion from: Cantata BWV 94 - Discussions

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 25, 2006):
< Bach and the Lutheran Church was anything but Puritan but it still was very restrictive and we see this when he got fired (others put it more diplomatically) from one of his jobs because he allowed his wife to sing in the Choir. >
The evidence merely indicates that young Bach got reprimanded for allowing an _unauthorized_ woman (unidentified) to perform something, on some occasion, without advance permission.

How did this become a supposed firing over bringing in his supposed wife to join a supposed choir?

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (July 25, 2006):
[To Bradley Lehman] I can not be sure which one of the wives was involved but I think it was Maria-Barbara. Shortly thereafter he was gone as women were not allowed to participate in any services at this particular Church as they apparently were at others (???). This was before his Leipzig days. I am sorry but I can not find the source for this otherwise I would cite you chapter, page and verse.

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 25, 2006):
[To Ludwig] As a teenage organist, I once took a girl I liked to hear me practise the organ. She was sitting on the organ bench beside me as I thrilled her with my deft passage-work when my elderly organ teacher arrived to practise himself. He tactfully proceeded to change hymn numbers on the boards while I prepared to flee in disgrace. The girl showed showed extraordinary sang-froid when she whispered to me, "Play something!". In a panic I opened up my music and started in on a Bach prelude and fugue. After a complete botch-up, I packed up while she again with amazing poise struck up a brief chat about playing the violin. She could have worked for the Resistance! The only comment about the incident came at my next lesson when. after I played the ill-fated Bach piece, my teacher said my pedalling was more confident.

I have always imagined that the Bach incident came about when he decided to show his lady friend the organ loft which was technically off-limits to women. Perhaps she was thrilled with his deft passage-work as well. I suspect that in a moment of high adventure she stepped to the rail of the gallery and sang out a phrase or two and alas was overheard by the sexton below who reported the incident to the pastor.

Chicks really love inverted mordents!

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 25, 2006):
[To Ludwig] Before his Leipzig days, yes; long before. It was November 11th 1706 when the notice appeared in the consistory notes at Arnstadt, and this was before Bach (aged 21) was ever married to anybody.

The suggestion that it was cousin Maria Barbara appears to have originated with Spitta.

Why assume that the offense was caused primarily by the visitor's gender (and planting some sexist policy onto the officials)? The offense was that JSB had an unauthorized person making music within a restricted area of the building, having entered without advance permission. Bringing an unapproved person into the workplace. It may (or may not) have been exacerbated by the fact that the visitor was female, but we don't know that. Bach's contract stipulated that he was supposed to keep the organ in working order, and that included not bringing any unauthorized visitors near it.

In that same memorandum, Bach is also in trouble for refusing to make music with some of the students who were assigned to collaborate with him. (Instead, he was bringing in an unauthorized person, who happened to be female....) Bach was breaching his contract in several ways here.

The most recent thing I've seen about this is in Peter Williams's bio of Bach, pages 30-31.

Raymond Joly wrote (July 25, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< The offense [at Arnstadt] was that JSB had an unauthorized person making music within a restricted area of the building [...]. It may (or may not) have been exacerbated by the fact that the visitor was female, but we don't know that. >
I do not know anything about women sitting, standing or singing in the different parts of Lutheran churches at that time in Germany, except that Johann Mattheson prides himself on having had a lady, Madame Kayser, singing in the "Chor" of the cathedral ("Dom"), an occurrence previously unseen in any church in Hamburg. That was September 17, 1716. From then on, women sang in the Dom as long as he was there (GRUNDLAGE EINER EHREN-PFORTE, 1740, quoted after the edition of 1910, p. 203).

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 25, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Why assume that the offense was caused primarily by the visitor's gender (and planting some sexist policy onto the officials)? The offense was that JSB had an unauthorized person making music within a restricted area of the building, having entered without advance permission. >
Officialdom in Bach's day reflected social attitudes which barred women from any role in the Lutheran church. Women soloists may have been tolerated in the Catholic Court Chapel in Dresden and there is a pretty good argument that Bach envisaged a performance of the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) with women soloists. But in Leipzig, I doubt women were even allowed as cleaners in the church let alone having clerical or musical roles.

Remember the congregation was even seated with a division of the sexes, the men being seated on the left, the side of "greater dignity" because the Gospel was read on that side of the sanctuary. I still wonder if there is was criticism of Bach setting cantata texts by a woman. He broke off the professional relationship rather abruptly. Even if the 1706 incident merely involved a tour of the choir loft, it would have shocked many in the congregation.

A woman?! Unmarried?!! Unchaperoned?!!! Scandalous!!!!!

Thomas Shepherd wrote (July 26, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] LOL. Thanks for this post. A lovely story for a hot summers day - one to remind us that once we were young!

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 26, 2006):
Thomas Shepherd wrote:
< one to remind us that once we were young! >
Not to overlook that :
(1) there are quite a few posts from young readers in the BCW archives, and more would be welcome!
(2) I forget what (2) was going to be.

Santu de Silva wrote (July 28, 2006):
I'm a little disconcerted with the lack of common-sense in this discussion. In Pennsylvania, as late as 1960, it was considered inappropriate for a man to take a woman up to the organ loft if there was no other person present --at least in the church, if not in the loft-- in the nature of a chaperone. Though the organist would not have been fired, especially if the young lady was a cousin, still there would have been a serious talk. So what is everyone getting excited about?

It probably was a woman, and if I were Bach, I would have taken the risk, and eaten the consequences! There isn't any reason to get indignant about the incident (maybe I was misreading the messages) and there really isn't that much of a mystery about the incident.

 

Women in 18th century choirs

Continue of discussion from: Altos in Bach’s Vocal Works [General Topics]

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 9, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< I know that on more than one occasion C.P.E. Bach (director of music in Hamburg, 1768-1788) complains not just about the quality of his choirboys, but about the fact that they're choirboys at all. >
Herl give a good summary of the evidence for women choir singers in the period in "Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism", p. 16 [from Google Books].

"With few exceptions, there is no indication that girls participated vocally in the services except as members of the congregation. Three exceptions are found in church orders for individual cities: Zwickau in 1529, Naumburg 1538, and Nördlingen 1555. The Zwickau order simply noted that the girls' choir was to be discontinued, as it was not necessary to saddle them with this task. The Naumburg order was for St. Wenzel's Church; it directed that the German singing be done in alternation between the choir and the rest of the congregation. If the organ played, then it served as a choir, and so there were three choirs alternating, And when the girls' choir also sang, there were four choirs. The Nördlingen order contained the same provisions for alternation as in Naumburg but called the girls' choir something "we would like to have eventually." Two more exceptions are Hof, where it is reported that a girls' school sang in German in alternation with the choir from the Latin school, Jochimsthal, where a sixteenth-century pastor mentions a girls' choir, although its exact function is not noted. A final exception is conveyed by Rautenstrauch, who reports that in one Saxon village in the late 17th century the cantor's daughters sang in the figural choir for a festival service.

No evidence has surfaced that adult women ever sang in choirs before the eighteenth century. The reason for this is not easily found in the sources, but the prevailing opinion that woman's plawas in the home doubtless played a art, as did the fact that the soprano part was already sung by young boys. There was also the belief that a woman should not occupy a leadership role in the church. By the eighteenth century, though, the choir was beginning to be seen more as a performing group than as a leader of the liturgy; and so Gottfried Ephraim Scheibel, writing in 1721, was in favour of allowing women to sing, "although it would cause consternation at first." In 1739 Johann Mattheson wrote that it had been difficult for him to introduce women into the Hamburg cathedral choir: at first they had to be placed where they could not be seen, but eventually they could not be seen and heard enough! But in the city's parish choirs, he noted, women were still not allowed.

As far as can be determined, women never served as cantors, clerks, or organists."

That would suggest that C.P.E. Bach in 1768 had at least one choir with women in the Hamburg Cathedral. It would interesting to know if the innovation was in place in 1720 when Sebastian visited the city.

Given the Italian influence in Dresden where castrati were used in the Catholic court chapel, were there any girls' choirs on the model of Venice's "ospedali" which Bach could have heard?

I like the story of the village cantor's daughters singing with the choir on festival occasions. I can imagine Bach's daughters rounding on their father if they ever saw such a novelty at a rural family wedding!

Evan Cortens wrote (November 8, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< That would suggest that C.P.E. Bach in 1768 had at least one choir with women in the Hamburg Cathedral. It would interesting to know if the innovation was in place in 1720 when Sebastian visited the city. >
As far as I can tell from all the records of singers I've looked at in Hamburg, and I'd say I've looked at most of them, there were no women singing in the choir that performed C.P.E. Bach's music. The soprano part was sung by boys as old as 16, and the alto, tenor and bass parts were all sung by adult men. That being said, I can't categorically state that there weren't women singing in church! They just aren't listed in any of the invoices or reports.

Douglas Cowling wrote (November 9, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
< That being said, I can't categorically state that there weren't women singing in church! They just aren't listed in any of the invoices or reports. >
Black market mezzos!

Ed Myskowski wrote (November 9, 2010):
Evan Cortens wrote:
<< That being said, I can't categorically state that there weren't women singing in church! They just aren't listed in any of the invoices or reports. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Black market mezzos! >
Alas, the impossibility of proving a negative! Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (November 13, 2010):
[To Douglas Cowling] Well we have the story of JS Bach getting fired (or one of the political reasons for getting fired) because he allowed his wife sing in Church. With all those voluminous dresses that women wore back then you can see one of the logical reasons for not allowing women to sing in the Choir----as they took up just too much room to the sides of the dress not to mention in front.'in the cramped spaces of the Organ Gallery/loft.

A 'respectable' woman simply did not sing in church in those days let alone appear in public theatrical productions (Men and Boys usually played the part of women). If she were not of the nobility, her place was at home tending the hearth, children et al. Any woman who violated these traditions generally could look forward to societal scorn. If she were of the nobility--her place was to do charitable work, marry and produce heirs to her station in life. She was not expected to be educated or allowed to be educated although many women of this time who were female heirs of the throne were granted an exception to this general traditional rule. Work was beneath the station of any woman who was not of the peasant class.

 

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