Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal WorksMotet BWV 225
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied
Discussions in the Week of January 4, 2004
Aryeh Oron wrote (January 6, 2004):
BWV 225 – Introduction
Motet BWV 225 - Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied
Do I have to remind the members of the BCML that we have agreed that Year 2004 will be dedicated to systematic discussions of Bach's other vocal works?
The order of discussion for 2004 is located at the following page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Order-2004.htm
The chosen work for this week's discussion (January 4, 2004) is the Motet BWV 225 'Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied' (Sing unto the Lord a new song).
The recordings of the Motets BWV 225-231 are listed in the following pages of the Bach Cantatas Website (BCW):
Until 1970: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV225-231.htm
From 2001: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV225-231-Rec5.htm
The Motets have already been discussed in the BCML, BRML and some other
lists. Those discussions are complied into the following pages:
Part 1: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV225-231-Gen.htm
Part 2: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV225-231-Gen2.htm
Links to additional useful complementary information can be found at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV225-231.htm
a. Original German text and various translations
b. Score from BGA Edition.
Let's the discussions begin!
Arjen van Gijssel wrote (January 6, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] I haven't forgotten of the discussion list. I am planning a reaction, but it will take some time. Let me already say that of all Bach's divine work, I am an absolute fan of the motets. And Singet dem Herrn is by far my most preferred piece. And within that motet, I still cannot understand how a human being has been able to compose bar 59 (Israel freue sich) through bar 75 (die Kinder Zion) right to the end of the first part, bar 150. What is happening there, especially between 75 and 150 is absolute magic, and brings me to tears, even after 1000 times listening. How did he mingle the two choirs, and juxtapose all the individual voices? What joy it is for the tenors to come in with the line Mit Pauken und Harfen in bar 119! I have performed the work a couple of times, also with the Laurenscantorij, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I am sorry that I do not have a recording of it. I will try to contribute recordings of some of the other motets, Lobet, Fürchte, Jesu meine Freude and Komm Jesu, though. If people would like that of course.
Singet dem Herrn is the best medicine against a bad mood.
Charles Francis wrote (January 6, 2004):
BWV 225 - 'Kammerchor der Augsburger Domsingknaben'
For the purposes of musical analysis, I have uploaded a few short samples from BWV 225 performed by the 'Kammerchor der Augsburger Domsingknaben' conducted by Reinhard Kammler. This is my favourite recording of the motets at the present time and it demonstrates that boy choirs do not have to sing in the pioneering manner of Harnoncourt/Leonhardt. The recording is on the "Baroque Esprit" deutsche harmonia mundi label and regarding historical performance practice, the cover notes state:
"In announcing Baroque Esprit deutsche harmonia mundi is launching a series of outstanding recordings which truly reflect historical performance practice."
"Bach remarked in a memorandum from 23 August, 1730: 'In order that the choruses of church pieces may be performed by the choirs as is fitting, the vocalists must in turn be divided into 2 sorts, namely, concertists and ripienists. ... Every musical choir should contain at least 3 sopranos, 3 alto, 3 tenors and as many basses, so that given the case one should be indisposed [...] at least a double-chorus motet can still be sung. N.B. Though it would be even better if the Coetus [= circle, group] was such that one could have 4 singers to each part and thus perform every chorus with 16 persons.)' "
The CD notes conclude:
"In the present recording by the Augsburg Cathedral Choirboys, every effort was made to meet as closely as possible the scoring ideal recommended by Bach."
Certainly, it is interesting to compare the historical performance practice of 1987 with the 'One Voice Per Part' approach used by Cantus Cölln ten years later. In the earlier recording, one can note both the use of boys rather than female sopranos, and the strict adherence to the "scoring ideal recommended by Bach" as soloists alternate with the chorus.
The samples illustrating these principles can be found at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/BWV%20225/
Neil Halliday wrote (January 6, 2004):
Wow! This is certainly virtuouso music for choir!
The antiphonal effect is marvellous, with the left-hand choir singing the upper part of the score, and the right-hand choir singing the lower half. Notice how Bach swaps the material between the two choirs.
The division of the singers into ripienists and concertists is very effective, and the boy's choir sounds great.
One small point; are the inner voices a little indistinct at times, or is it just me having trouble coping with all the parts?
I should have Rilling's version in about a week, to compare.
Thanks for these examples of this wonderful choral music.
Richard Sams wrote (January 6, 2004):
Motet BWV 225 Jacobs
I particularly like the recording of The Motets by René Jacobs and RIAS-Kammerchor but I've noticed that in BWV 225, Jacobs repeats the second part (Aria/chorale). which is not done in the three other recordings I have (Cantus Cölln, Eric Ericson, Reinhard Kammler). Personally, I prefer this motet without the repeat, feeling that it detracts from the momentum and balance. The notes to the Jacobs recording state: "In our recording this part is repeated, according to Bach's performing instructions." I wonder if other recordings observe this repeat and, if it is really what Bach intended, why they do not.
Neil Halliday wrote (January 6, 2004):
[To Richard Sams] What is the "second part"?
The BGA score shows a first section in 3/4 time, with real 8-part writing; a second section in 4/4 time, in which each choir performs alone in alternating fashion (except for the last few bars where both choirs are singing), and a final section in 3/8 time, in which both choirs are always singing, but always the same material, so this section is really only 4-part music.
There are no markings of "aria/chorale", or repeat signs.
Richard Sams wrote (January 6, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Sorry, my message was not clear. I am referring to the second section in 4/4 time with each choir performing alternately, which the notes to the Jacobs recording refer to as "an alternation of chorale and 'aria'" (hence my use of aria/chorale). This section is repeated in the Jacobs recording (with a different text) but not in any of the other recordings I have.
Arjen van Gijssel wrote (January 6, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I agree with Neil: it is a very good performance.
I like the approach: full of joy, and with polyphony. Sometimes the pitch of sopranos is somewhat insecure. And I certainly miss the tenor lines. Perhaps this is what Neil means with inner voices being indistinct.
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 6, 2004):
>>The notes to the Jacobs recording state: "In our recording this part is repeated, according to Bach's performing instructions." I wonder if other recordings observe this repeat and, if it is really what Bach intended, why they do not.<<
The NBA KB III/1 indicates the only additional words (not actual text for the music) that Bach wrote on the autograph score [his text, BTW, sometimes differs from the text found in the original parts, copied mainly by Johann Andreas Kuhnau and two other copyists]:
Title at the top of page:
J.J. Motetto a doi Cori. 2 S. 2 A. 2 T. 2 B. | di Joh: Sebast: Bach [the last for words added later in a light colored ink]
At the end of the second part (after ms. 220):
Der 2 Vers. ist wie d erste, nur daß die Chöre ümwechseln, nur dz. 1ste Chor den Choral, dz 2dre die Aria singe
This entry was incorrectly rendered in the BG 39, p. XXVI, Spitta improved the rendering and it still had to corrected once again for the NBA.
[The 2nd verse is like the first except that the choirs are switched, meanwhile/at the same time the 1st choir sings the chorale and the 2nd sings the aria.]
Here I have translated the abbreviation 'dz.' as 'derzeit'
The NBA now renders this statement as follows:
"Der 2. Versus ist wie der erste, nur daß die Chöre ümsechseln, nur das erste Chor den Choral, das andre die Aria singe"
"2ndre" [which to me looks like 'sekundre' is rendered as 'andre' = the other; I have never seen '2dre' in the meaning of 'other' although in this instance there is no other choir to refer to]
Here the experts have rendered 'dz.' as the article for 'Chor' which is generally 'der Chor' [The DWB indicates that 'das Chor' was first used by Goethe. This is born out by looking at Walther's 'Musicalische Lexicon' which has 'der Chor.' The rendering by the NBA seems to be obviously mistaken here.]
So beginning with the pickup to ms. 152 until ms. 220, the two choirs switch their parts when this section is repeated, which means that they will be singing a different text (and the different parts as well) than they originally had the first time they sang this section. These are separate verses from different chorales, the first being the famous "Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren' by Johann Gramann (1487-1541) and the second selected by Bach is of an unknown origin.
Marita wrote (January 6, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijsse] What about Schneidt and Wien capella?
By the way is the one they try to sell in the little Bach Shop in Eisenach's native home.
Tomek wrote (January 6, 2004):
Off course the most beautiful recording of BWV 225 is Herreweghe, as always.
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 7, 2004):
Motet BWV 225, missle section
[To Richard Sams] Daniel Melamed in the Oxford Composer Companion, probably reprising some of the material from his own 1995 book [which I haven't seen yet], points out that the original occasion [if any] of this piece is still unknown, and the subject of plenty of speculation. He also points out that the instructions to switch parts in another go at the chorale/aria section appear only in the score, not in the performing parts that Bach himself helped to prepare.
In the 1998 edition of BWV, Alfred Dürr and associates give a tentative date of 1727 and an even more speculative "(Neujahr?)".
That gets me thinking about a couple of things. Why should we assume that there was any single specific occasion for public performance, in the first place? Many of Bach's instrumental works certainly were not written for any public premiere, but primarily as teaching material. What if this motet is just more of that: primarily as teaching material for his choirs to work on technique and get them familiar with different styles of music? There were new people to be trained all the time, with singers coming and going and falling ill; Bach complained [elsewhere] about that. This is a particularly difficult piece to give the students a real workout.
We needn't assume there was any specific church service (or services) at all for first use of this piece, any specific deadline. And, having worked it up, they could still use it at any other time whenever it might fit into a church service; church choirs do this all the time, having older repertoire pretty much ready to go as soon as it's been learned well enough, and as soon as an occasion presents itself.
What if the note in the margin of the score is mostly a reminder to an assistant director to have the ripieno choristers and concertists switch around the parts for different occasions in rehearsals? Bach wouldn't need such a note himself, necessarily, if directing or teaching the piece himself: he could simply tell everybody at rehearsal. That way, switching the chorale and aria to let everybody have a go at it, all the singers of various levels of ability would get to know all of it. They could sing any number of repetitions at rehearsals, with any variety of texts brought in as needed, for any particular use of the piece.
Do those original performing parts even have both sets of music (as performing parts for singers usually did not...just their own line), or would the singers really have to swap pieces of paper around to do this suggested repetition; or learn the parts of both choirs by memory to avoid the paper-swapping?
As somebody has looked up, the note in Bach's score is: "Der 2 Vers. ist wie d erste, nur daß die Chöre ümwechseln, nur dz. 1ste Chor den Choral, dz 2dre die Aria singe". That's clear enough in describing a way to perform this, keeping in mind that only the director would have seen this. But why should anyone assume that every performance would have used the same strategy? Bach recycled and reworked his own music all the time, whenever it was needed for something else. We should not expect that Bach or his assistants would have led this piece exactly the same way every time it was ever used; what's the problem with having some performances have a repeat, others not, whatever suits the occasion and the liturgical time to be filled? If a second verse is needed sometime, making the piece longer on some occasion, it can be nifty to have the choirs switch around also...more interesting for everybody. I don't see any problem with that; again, it's practical use of material that has been prepared, and church musicians do that all the time. [Reminds me of Frescobaldi's instructional notes to his own keyboard compositions: when playing them in church, it's OK to stop wherever is convenient if the liturgical activity is done...no need to play the whole piece, necessarily.]
That is: I see no reason to assume that "Bach's intentions" were ever any single immutable thing for any given piece! It's more important to think through the situations he dealt with, practically, than to follow any single set of instructions with the assumption that they suit all occasions.
Obviously, a person making a recording for publication has to make some choices, and (unfortunately) to set them in the equivalent of stone; but that's a situation that Bach himself knew nothing of, and perhaps would have found either amusing or annoying. The notion of a single best way to perform any given passage, to be heard that way in endless repetition for all time: feh!
Brad Lehman (always thinking against rigid approaches to the material, and thinking practically, as a church musician does needing to prepare several Sundays' worth of music simultaneously: have multiple pieces in the works at any given time)
Charles Francis wrote (January 7, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] The CD can be ordered online from Amazon Germany for 7 Euro: Amazon.com
I rather imagine the postal charges will be the primary cost for you!
Richard Sams wrote (January 7, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Assume that there was any single specific occasion for public performance < that "Bach's intentions" were ever any single immutable thing for any given piece >
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 7, 2004):
>>That gets methinking about a couple of things. Why should we assume that there was any single specific occasion for public performance, in the first place? Many of Bach's instrumental works certainly were not written for any public premiere, but primarily as teaching material. What if this motet is just more of that: primarily as teaching material for his choirs to work on technique and get them familiar with different styles of music? There were new people to be trained all the time, with singers coming and going and falling ill; Bach complained [elsewhere] about that. This is a particularly difficult piece to give the students a real workout.<<
This type of thinking does not go very far with the comments given in the NBA KB III/1.
This myth was first created by Forkel [the entire German quote is given on p. 12] and is dismissed by the editor, Konrad Ameln, as being riddled with errors and false notions which have perpetuated themselves until today since they were for a long time the only information about the purpose of the motets in general. For a while, at the beginning of the 20th century, it was thought that they were primarily reserved for funerary services, even BWV 225 was put into this category! [Particularly because of the phrase “Gott, nimm dich ferner unser an” which is repeated 7 times] It was because of this same repeated phrase that Spitta came up with the idea : “Das Werk is offenbar eine Neujahrsmusik” [“This composition is obviously a piece for New Year.”] Arnold Schering concurring with this idea even suggested that its 1st performance was for January 1, 1745 as a result of the Peace of Dresden which had been concluded on December 25, 1745. Based upon handwriting analysis and the watermarks of the paper for the original autograph and parts, BWV 225 must have been composed between 1726 and 1727 with one possible date being May 12, 1727, the birthday of Friedrich August, the reigning regent of the area. It would have been sung in the early morning in the Thomaskirche. It is a work expressing thanks and gratitude.
This is one of the few motets which Bach probably intended to leave open-ended, without a specific designation. This would make it more usable in a variety of situations.
5 of the 7 motets in the NBA edition are designated without a doubt for funerary purposes (mourning, a remembrance of the death of an individual, etc.); one is a mvt. from a cantata and BWV 225 is the one under discussion here. None of these were to be performed by the ‘motet’ choir referred to in the “Entwurff…”  “…damit…wenigstens eine 2 Chörigte Motette gesungen werden kann.” [“so that at least a double-choir motet can be sung”] This does not refer to Bach’s own motets but rather those sung as part of a century-old tradition at the beginning of the services and conducted by the prefect. They used the ‘Florilegium Portense’ which Bach designated as the ‘gewöhnliche Motetten’ [‘the usual motets’], whereas his own he labeled as the ‘außergewöhnliche Motetten’ [‘the unusual, extraordinary motets.’] No documentation whatsoever has ever surfaced to prove Forkel’s contention that Bach’s motets were ‘practice pieces’ for the Thomanerchor.
BL: >>As somebody has looked up, the note in Bach's score is: "Der 2 Vers ist wie d erste, nur daß die Chöre ümwechseln, nur dz. 1ste Chor den Choral, dz 2dre die Aria singe". That's clear enough in describing a way to perform this<<
This is the way to perform this motet. Beyond this, anyone can do anything with this music, but it is less than what Bach originally had in mind This music is so challenging that a good musician/conductor, out of respect for this piece should first attempt to exhaust all the possibilities that lead to an excellent performance with the choir(s) at hand, before even contemplating: ‘Now I have performed this piece to the satisfaction of Bach and anyone who may have listened, therefore I can move to the next step: to change the score to something else that he may have liked to do.” What good is a performance that is less than excellent, let’s say, even perhaps mediocre, but has changed things about so that it no longer represents Bach’s intentions as they have come down to us?
Richard Sams wrote (January 7, 2004):
Sorry about that last mail - I'm struggling with a new computer!
[To Bradley Lehman] I do not "assume that there was any single specific occasion for public performance" or that Bach's "intentions were ever any single immutable thing for any given piece" or that that there is a "notion of a single best way to perform any given passage, to be heard that way in endless repetition for all time." But I really don't mind being set up as a straw man if it produces such a fine response! Your point about thinking seriously and imaginatively about Bach's actual situation is well taken. However, putting aside the question of Bach's intentions (which nobody can really know, one way or the other), performers making recordings of the motets are still faced with the option of whether or not to include this repeat. Presumably, this decision is not just based on what they think Bach intended but on musical, interpretative and practical considerations (e.g. whether six motets could still fit on one CD if the repeat is included!). And since its inclusion considerably changes the nature of the motet, this seems to me a very important decision. I therefore became curious as to whether only Jacobs had included this repeat or if there are other recordings that do so.
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 7, 2004):
Motet BWV 225, and intentions
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< (...) This is the way to perform this motet. Beyond this, anyone can do anything with this music, but it is less than what Bach originally had in mind This music is so challenging that a good musician/conductor, out of respect for this piece should first attempt to exhaust all the possibilities that lead to an excellent performance with the choir(s) at hand, before even contemplating: “Now I have performed this piece to the satisfaction of Bach and anyone who may have listened, therefore I can move to the next step: to change the score to something else that he may have liked to do.” What good is a performance that is less than excellent, let’s say, even perhaps mediocre, but has changed things about so that it no longer represents Bach’s intentions as they have come down to us? >
There we are with "Bach's intentions" again, and the way you allegedly know them better than anyone else does, enough to tell everybody else there is only one way to do it and you know what it is.
A simple question: have you ever held one of Bach's jobs, as a salaried organist or music director of a church? (And for how long?) If the answer is "no," how do you have any idea what any church musician's intentions or working practices could have been like, preparing music regularly every week, and any idea how that practical stuff may have manifested itself in the surviving notation?
Please answer the question: have you ever held one of Bach's jobs, as a salaried organist or music director of a church? (And if so, did the working conditions ever affect your notation of a composition or arrangement you prepared for services?)
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 7, 2004):
Brad Lehman stated:
>>There we are with "Bach's intentions" again, and the way you allegedly know them better than anyone else does, enough to tell everybody else there is only one way to do it and you know what it is.<<
Why don’t you direct this assertion to Joshua Rifkin?
More seriously, however, you must remember that, as the experts have determined, this work was very special to Bach, not a work to be treated lightly as the 'other' non-Bachian motets which were being sung regularly. It is very interesting that Bach’s directions about the repeated section must have been written at the very same time (even with the same ink!) as the rest of the autograph. When he penned in his own name after the title designation at the top of the 1st page, it was in a slightly lighter ink which would indicate an afterthought on his part, an afterthought (not part of the original compositional process) that may hamounted to beginning a new bottle of ink or a new quill on the same day or any reasonable time point up to a year or two later when he wanted to make certain that this motet would not be confused with any of the other motets. It is very special and demands special care in regard to Bach's instructions which can not be compared with Brad Lehman's (or, for that matter, any other current organist/choir director's) responsibilities today, such last-minute substitutions and changes such as 'I don't have enough time to sing the repeat today, so I'll simply skip it.'
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 7, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] So, Tom, from your non-answer of the "were you ever an organist or music director for a church" question, we'll assume "no." If you had such practical experience, you'd surely tell us so.
And lacking that practical experience it's just--yet again--the same old idolatry: with your purchase of the NBA you believe you have obtained the complete rights to anyone's "intentions," and can use that authoritative edition of "Bach's instructions" to trump every practical musician (including Bach). Think about it: in so doing, holding the written text like a sword of Damocles, you are asserting that Bach himself did it only one way, no matter how many occasions there may have been to use this piece; and that that particular way is completely described in that one authoritative set of written instructions.
I'm not sure which is worse here: the idolatry of that, or the illogic of it in the face of practical musicianship. [Or, as some others here might feel, the tediousness of having this problem pointed out, every time you make fallacious use of such authoritarian reasoning.] You've chosen one supposedly authoritative thing to believe, on your own terms based on your own purchases, and seek to diminish the different experience of anyone else.
Tom, have you ever sung in any of Bach's "motets" BWV 225-230, or BWV 118? When and where? (Your non-answer of such a simple question will be taken as "no.")
Peter Bright wrote (January 7, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] The latter... Brad, you ask so many questions (have you ever been this, have you ever been that, etc. etc.) that I've totally managed to lose track of your own opinions, other than being diametrically opposed to Thomas's. At least I have an idea of where Thomas is coming from (whether or not I agree with the majority of his views), but your purpose on this list now seems to be asking Thomas questions about what he has done in his life.
< Tom, have you ever sung in any of Bach's "motets" BWV 225-230, or 118? When and where? (Your non-answer of such a simple question will be taken as "no.") >
Oh, there we go again...
Richard Sams wrote (January 7, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] It seems that Gardiner also follows this instruction. I found the following message in the BCML archives:
Johan van Veen wrote (April 7, 2001):
(To Daniel Hobbs) You should at least go for a version in which the BWV 225 (Singet dem Herrn) is really complete: according to Bach the second section should be repeated with a different text and with the choirs switching roles. As far as I can remember only Gardiner and Jacobs follow that practice.
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 7, 2004):
Peter Bright wrote:
< Brad, you ask so many questions (have you ever been this, have you ever been that, etc. etc.) that I've totally managed to lose track of your own opinions, other than being diametrically opposed to Thomas's. At least I have an idea of where Thomas is coming from (whether or not I agree with the majority of his views), but your purpose on this list now seems to be asking Thomas questions about what he has done in his life. >
Peter, I'll be quite happy to stop asking him questions he can only dodge, if he stops arrogating "Bach's intentions" to himself, and stops using his purchases and preferences to belittle or lecture (or impugn the credibility of) people who actually do the work. He's had a week now to present a harmonization of a simple chorale, demonstrating the most basic craftsmanship to think as Bach did, but hasn't demonstrated any inclination to do it (or even any identification of that chorale, which Bach used in at least six extant pieces); so I suppose we should just assume he can't do so, and move on. That's his own strategy used against him: to put up a reasonable-sounding challenge and then claim triumph when the opponent fails to produce anything to his satisfaction...so, let's consider that point proven (by his own methods, for whatever credibility that's worth) and move on.
My own stance in the OVPP arena? My own reactions to the evidence and case presented by Rifkin and Parrott, and the plausibility of it? I'm not going to rely on hearsay; I must read it for myself directly from Rifkin and Parrott, confronting those arguments directly, and have not done so yet.
As a listener and performer I enjoy the music "both" ways (one-per-part, or more-per-part) and would not like to see either way become exclusive, as any supposedly "only" way to serve "Bach's intentions" correctly. That's just the same old trap no matter who falls into it.
Obviously, I always come to all of this stuff from the practical angle. Does it work well, musically, with such-and-such an approach on such-and-such a particular occasion where the music is to be performed? If so, if the music comes across convincingly and clearly, I feel (on faith, of course) that "Bach's intentions" have been served well enough that matters to me. It could always be better, given easier situations or more diligent work; that's why we spend entire careers improving ourselves and broadening our experience.
My own guess at "Bach's intentions" is that he would be initially amused, then eventually really pissed-off, at the bickering about supposedly exclusive methods, and would do whatever is necessary or effective at whatever occasion was presented to him. That is what a practicing church musician does to get the job done, whether he's shooting for a great spiritual/artistic ideal, or trying to get through an impossible situation (inadequate resources or whatever), or something in between. Bach's "intentions," as far as I believe can be determined, were: do something practical and intelligent. Anything but rigidity from one practical situation to the next! (Obviously, I believe that on faith, which has been strengthened immeasurably by nurturing and using as many of those same Bach-skills myself as are feasible for me: "walking in his shoes" to understand what he might have been thinking or intending. How else can one know anything, but by experience, plus study of reports, plus a final leap of faith to cover things that are not completely knowable any other way?)
And, I suggest that people who don't come to it with that expectation of intelligent practicality (or, I suggest a little more cautiously, who come to it without that direct experience, without any resume), without situational judgment and flexibility, have completely missed the point. I believe there's just no way to "know" that stuff, and know the normal range of flexibility to get the job done, without spending the years actually doing it. Having done it myself, I think back to the stuff I had no clue about before the practical experience, compared with now (and the things I used to be "sure" about before ever doing them, but no longer are); and believe even more firmly that the hands-on practice has no substitute. Not only because Bach Said So (which he did!) about applying oneself to the work, but because I've learned from experience that it's true. Everything becomes moderated by experience, by coming to the material from as many angles as possible.
Having done many of those Bach's-professional-footsteps things myself (not to rehash my resume yet again), I know what my "intentions" as a musician are in any given specific situation, and know that they are often very different from any other situation, even where the parameters seem similar on the surface. Whether it's a composition of mine, or my performance of somebody else's, or an impr, or whatever: nobody knows my "intentions" but me, but can only observe the results of the work. It's amusing at first, and then exasperating, to hear anybody try to explain my intentions to me...why should I assume Bach would not experience that same range, with people guessing what he "intended"? And why would anyone's "intentions" ever be a constant, from one day to the next?
So, how can I or anyone else guess Bach's (or anyone else's) supposedly timeless "intentions," with the arrogant certainty that some folks here seem to have? If my own experience is any indication at all, Bach's own "intentions" would similarly be different at any given moment of his life, according to the situation he was dealing with...never a fixed point, never a rigid opinion about the single way to do anything correctly for all time. It's absurd to limit anyone's "intentions" in that way. Bach is not limited to some fixed truth that we can go out and purchase.
And I've heard some of my own compositions sung OVPP at some occasions, and moreVPP at other occasions (sometimes led by me, sometimes without my participation at all), and know that my "intentions" were served very well both ways. Heck, I was glad to hear the music done at all, and used in ways that suited the occasions (church services, recordings, whatever) where they were done. A couple weeks ago I sent off a composition and received the agreed payment for it; and I trust that however the occasion went (a memorial service for somebody) the people there got something out of it that satisfied them. My "intentions" or my thoughts while writing the piece are irrelevant; and I don't know how many singers they had for this occasion...I just wrote something according to the parameters they requested, and let them perform it as they saw fit. My "intentions" were that they got something as good as or better than their expectations, and found it useful to them. The piece could sound vastly different on some other occasion, and still be the same piece of work; that's not a problem. The score doesn't tell them everything they could ever need to know; I don't know their situation halfway across the country from me. All I can do is give them something they can work with, to their own satisfaction. So, why should I as a listener expect it to be different for any other composer?
That's why it angers me to hear anyone arrogating "Bach's intentions" to himself based only on book-learning but no practice; how can anyone know what it might be like to think like Bach did, even a very small percentage of it, without at least the ability and shared experience of writing and improvising and performing music in week-to-week practical situations?
Neil Halliday wrote (January 9, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
"My own stance in the OVPP arena? My own reactions to the evidence and case presented by Rifkin and Parrott, and the plausibility of it? I'm not going to rely on hearsay; I must read it for myself directly from Rifkin and Parrott, confronting those arguments directly, and have not done so yet."
For my part, I'm simply astounded and amazed by the silliness of the of the conclusion that must be be reached from accepting OVPP as fact, namely, that Bach among all great choral composers before and after him, never wrote for a choir!. (Even two groups of 4 singers as in the SMP (BWV 244) etc, or the motet under discussion, hardly constitute a 'choir', but in any case the theory has to apply to the vast bulk of Bach's choral output, with single SATB choruses.)
This is not to say that people ought not be able to present the music in OVPP or OPPP for that matter; chamber music versions of anything can be quite pleasing, as long as people realize they are listening to the chamber-music version, and not to the composer's intentions (bearing in mind Brad's difficulties with this last concept, but I feel safe in stating that Bach intended to write for a choir, not a quartet, as noted above).
Johan van Veen wrote (January 9, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote:
Bradley Lehman wrote: "My own stance in the OVPP arena? My own reactions to the evidence and case presented by Rifkin and Parrott, and the plausibility of it? I'm not going to rely on hearsay; I must read it for myself directly from Rifkin and Parrott, confronting those arguments directly, and have not done so yet."
For my part, I'm simply astounded and amazed by the silliness of the of the conclusion that must be be reached from accepting OVPP as fact, namely, that Bach among all great choral composers before and after him, never wrote for a choir!. (Even two groups of 4 singers as in the SMP (BWV 244) etc, or the motet under discussion, hardly constitute a 'choir', but in any case the theory has to apply to the vast bulk of Bach's choral output, with single SATB choruses.) >
Your view of what the word 'choir' means is anachronistic. The modern associations of the term 'choir' are not necessarily the same as those of the pre-romantic era.
Look at a libretto of a Handel opera and you will find it ends with a 'Coro'. Do you really believe the composer intended that 'Coro' to be sung by a choir in the 'modern' sense of the word, considering this 'Coro' is often the only one in the whole opera, lasting for something like 3 minutes?
Gabriel wrote (January 9, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote
< For my part, I'm simply astounded and amazed by the silliness of the of the conclusion that must be be reached from accepting OVPP as fact, namely, that Bach among all great choral composers before and after him, never wrote for a choir!. (Even two groups of 4 singers as in the SMP (BWV 244) etc, or the motet under discussion, hardly constitute a 'choir', but in any case the theory has to apply to the vast bulk of Bach's choral output, with single SATB choruses.) >
Neil, I'm astounded by the silliness of your assertion that two groups of 4 singers "hardly constitute a 'choir' ". Why not? I have never come across any definition of the word 'choir' that specifies a minimum number of voices....
Marcus Song wrote (January 12, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] Although I have heard "Singet dem Herrn" many times on my Archiv recording with Hanns-Martin Schneidt and the Regensburger Domspatzen, thanks to Aryeh's incredible web-site resource I was able to download the full-score and view it for the first time with the/ music and discover some of the ingenious architecture Bach designed that my poor ears never noticed!
Starting in bar 75, Bach introduces an energetic musical line ("Die Kinder Zion...") in the soprano of Choir-1 on top of a more relaxed, chordal 4-part accompaniment supplied by Choir-2 ("Singet dem Herrn..."). Each successive entry of "Die Kinder Zion" occurs in sequentially lower voice of Choir-1 until the 4th entry is started in the Bass of both choirs and now reverses back through in sequentially higher voice in Choir-2 in unison with Choir-1 (sop->alt->tenor->bass->tenor->alt->sop). It's as if Bach started a tiny wave at the top of the first choir, gathering momentum as it travels to the bottom, and by the time it has reflected back to the top, has swept-up both choirs in a huge tide of energy.
It is also interesting to note that the part-density rises and falls during this section as well. Starting with the first entry of "Die Kinder Zion..." in Choir-1 soprano, we have a 5-part texture with the full 4-voice accompaniment of Choir-2. With the Choir-1 tenor entry, the musical density has increased to 7-parts (SAT in Choir1 and SATB in Choir-2). Then with subsequent entries as Choir-2 joins in unison with Choir-1, the independent "accompaniment" is slowly abandoned voice-by-voice, and the musical density reduces back from 7-voices to 5-voices. Despite the augmentation then dimunution of part-density through this section, the overall effect is of unrelenting musical intensification right up to the climactic conclusion 5 bars from the end where both choirs shout-out ("mit Harfen und Pauken...") with brilliant antiphonal "hocket"-like effect, then finally resolving on the fchord.
Also, with the exception of the sections where both choirs sing in antiphonal declamation/response, it looks like Bach maintains at least a 5-part texture until the final chorus ("Alles was odem hat...") where both choirs are unified into the standard 4-part density.
On a side-note, I encourage everyone to download the score, pick a part, and sing-along with your favorite recording of these motets! Playing and participating in creating the music for yourself is ultimately much more rewarding and gratifying than passively hearing it come out of an electronic speaker with no involvement.
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 12, 2004):
Marcus Song stated:
>>Starting in bar 75, Bach introduces an energetic musical line ("Die Kinder Zion...") in the soprano of Choir-1 on top of a more relaxed, chordal 4-part accompaniment supplied by Choir-2 ("Singet dem Herrn..."). Each successive entry of "Die Kinder Zion" occurs in sequentially lower voice of Choir-1 until the 4th entry is started in the Bass of both choirs and now reverses back through in sequentially higher voice in Choir-2 in unison with Choir-1 (sop->alt->tenor->bass->tenor->alt->sop). It's as if Bach started a tiny wave at the top of the first choir, gathering momentum as it travels to the bottom, and by the time it has reflected back to the top, has swept-up both choirs in a huge tide of energy.<<
This is a wonderful description of one of the many compositional marvels that Bach incorporated into this motet. It is also a performance touchstone whereby most recordings fall by the wayside. Without the score in hand, a general listener would, in most of the recordings that I have listened to, be practically unaware of what is happening here. I would heartily recommend listening to what Marcus has described here to see if the performance(s) that you listen to a truly of high caliber or not. Although each entry is perhaps sung by as few as 2 or 3 (sometimes more) singers, it should be solid (not pianissimo or sung sotto voce) and clearly audible to the listener.
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 12, 2004):
This week I listened to the following recordings of BWV 225:
Kurt Thomas 1958-9; Öhrwall-Harnoncourt 1979; Gardiner 1980; Beringer 1981; Kammler 1987; Bernius 1989; Rilling 1990; Ericson 1992; Junghänel 1995; Biller 1996; Eschenburg 1999; Jung 2000.
Although Bach composed this motet primarily in a tri-partite form resembling an instrumental concerto with fast-slow-fast sections, for the purposes of tracking the tempi of the individual segments within the composition there are, for practical purposes 4 sections (usually the 1st word of the section is given):
1. Singet 2. Aria (chorale) sometimes repeated 3. Lobet 4. Alles
In ascertaining the tempi, I used a metronome which I adjusted so that each quarter note would receive a beat (the metronome number indicates the number of beats per minute) except in the last section where a dotted quarter note is used in instead (this means that the beginning of each measure receives one beat.) Naturally these are approximations, and there are sometimes certain points in each section where the tempo may vary (ritardandi, etc.)
The results are not entirely unexpected with certain generalizations possible to explain the wide variations that take place
Kurt Thomas 72/52/69/44
From slow to fast:
Section 1 (Singet)
Thomas, Gardiner, Biller, Ericson, Öhrwall-Harnoncourt, Eschenburg, Bernius, Rilling, Kammler, Beringer, Jacobs, Junghänel, Jung
Section 2 (Aria-Chorale)
Beringer, Gardiner, Thomas, Rilling, Eschenburg, Jacobs, Ericson, Kammler, Junghänel, Biller, Bernius, Öhrwall-Harnoncourt, Jung
Section 3 (Lobet)
Thomas, Beringer, Gardiner, Eschenburg, Öhrwall-Harnoncourt, Bernius, Rilling, Biller, Kammler, Ericson, Jacobs, Junghänel, Jung
Section 3 (Alles)
Thomas, Biller, Gardiner, Beringer, Bernius, Öhrwall-Harnoncourt, Kammler, Ericson, Eschenburg, Rilling, Jacobs, Junghänel, Jung
The results here are brought into focus by comparing Thomas (1958-9) with Jung (2000) (the oldest and the most recent recording: Thomas (72, 52, 69, 44) and Jung (108, 84, 100, 66). There is a tremendous acceleration of tempi in just a little less than a half century!
Kurt Thomas, Biller [both Thomanerchor recordings]; Beringer (Windsbacher Knabenchor); Kammler (Augsburger Domsingknaben);
Junghänel (Cantus Cölln)
Using Standard Pitch (all others not mentioned were about a semitone lower):
Kurt Thomas (Thomanerchor); Rilling (Gächinger Kantorei); Beringer (Windsbacher Knabenchor)
A capella (no instruments used):
Beringer (Windsbacher Knabenchor)
Section 2 (Aria-Chorale) repeated as indicated in Bach’s autograph:
Gardiner (Monteverdi Choir); Bernius (Kammerchor Stuttgart); Jacobs (RIAS-Kammerchor); Jung (Sächsisches Vocalensemble)
Use of solo voices for the 1st chorus voices in part 2 (Aria-Chorale):
Kammler (chosen from choir); Jacobs (Rubens, Fink, Türk, Kooy)
Excellent stereo separation of both choirs:
Very romantic interpretations (long crescendo and diminuendi, very soft passages, etc. ):
Some comments/characteristics on the individual recordings:
All of these choirs had problems contending with the difficulty of this composition. It is evident that there is a great struggle taking place in all of these recordings with boys' choirs: difficulties in maintaining balance, lack of precision in the attacks, strong vibratos in some of the key voices as well as some unpleasant, raspy voices that stick out, and flagging intensity at some points. Intonation problems abound but Beringer’s group which performed a capella rated higher than the others which had at least a bc or string and wind instruments that accompanied them and sometimes the full complement of instruments. The Thomanerchor (both with Thomas and Biller) tended to be overly enthusiastic, which may have caused the sharpening in pitch particularly in the sopranos and tenors. This was quite obvious at times. Kammler’s Augsburger Domsingknaben even had problems with going somewhat flat as well as sharp.
The Thomanerchor (in both recordings) had ‘clearer lines,’ that is, the fugal lines were more clearly delineated and did not show as much weakness as with Beringer’s or Kammler’s groups.
If forced to choose among these groups in order to hear what a boys’ choir recording would sound like performing this work, I would probably choose either Biller’s Thomanerchor version or Beringer’s Windsbacher Knabenchor. Kammler’s recording is simply not strong enough in too many ways to detail and Kurt Thomas’ rendition is primarily important for historical reasons.
The Junghänel recording is a special sound document or experiment which seems to prove that the use of instruments along with only 8 voices can easily become problematical: the orchestra becomes much too loud compared to the voices with the booming basso continuo drawing attention from the important singing that is taking place.
The auditory separation between the two choirs is only fair. The singing is generally well above average. The question still remains: did Bach really envision this motet to be performed in this manner? (The music nevertheless remains great even when performed properly in this manner.)
The mixed choirs:
In this category the results are rather disheartening. At the bottom of my list are Ericson, Rilling, Öhrwall-Harnoncourt. With Ericson it is a case of general, all-around sloppiness. Both Rilling and Öhrwall-Harnoncourt have a ‘punchiness’ about them with strong accents. The strong vibratos emanating from these choirs literally destroy any chance that these recordings could produce the joyfully straight, uplifting sound that this music demands. Rilling provides the power without finesse.
Of average quality are Gardiner, Jacobs, Jung. While this group can deliver some exciting moment, they generally suffer because of their overuse of sotto voce to achieve their effects. A sustained intensity is missing. There is a sense in all of these recordings that they are trying too hard to achieve performance practice goals while lacking a true sense of spirituality or sacredness. In each of these recordings there are some memorable, moving moments and the singing is otherwise generally at a high level of quality.
Above average would be Bernius and Eschenburg. Eschenburg’s performance is more ‘romantic’ than Bernius and perhaps the instruments used by Eschenburg are modern (although he performs the motet a semitone lower than standard pitch.) The stereo separation between the choirs is quite outstanding in the Eschenburg recording, but the overall quality of singing and playing is better in the Bernius recording which I would prefer over Eschenburg's if forced to make a choice.
I am still looking for a recording (in any of the categories listed above) which is outstanding according to my standards: (not in any specific order) noticeable, sustained intensity, solid intonation, precision attacks, clear diction, good balance with all of the parts clearly audible and no individual voices standing out (the balance with the orchestra is also important,) little or no vibrato (preferably the latter), full-voice singing, even if it means that slower tempi are necessary (no cheating or ‘pussy-footing’ the notes by reducing considerably their volume or reducing their value), singing with conviction even in the softer sections, subtle expressive interpretation without wild gesturing.
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 12, 2004):
This is information for Aryeh’s listing of recordings. It is not a recommendation (possibly this amounts to a signal to buy for some listeners. Brad?)
TACET 108 – LC 07033 (also available on DVD in TACET Real Surround Sound as TACET D 108)
Die Motetten BWV 225-229
Recorded July, September 2000
Richard Sams wrote (January 12, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I am still looking for a recording (in any of the categories listed above) which is outstanding according to my standards: (not in any specific order) noticeable, sustained intensity, solid intonation, precision attacks, clear diction, good balance with all of the parts clearly audible and no individual voices standing out (the balance with the orchestra is also important,) little or no vibrato (preferably the latter), full-voice singing, even if it means that slower tempi are necessary (no cheating or ‘pussy-footing’ the notes by reducing considerably their volume or reducing their value), singing with conviction even in the softer sections, subtle expressive interpretation without wild gesturing. >
Judging from these standards, you might like the recording by Herreweghe (1986). I am rather surprised that it is not included in this survey. Personally I find it a little too stately in pace and lacking in joy, but it might come closest to meeting your strict criteria. Apart from Cantus Cölln, the recording by the Scholars Baroque Ensemble on the Naxos label also follows an OVPP approach. The Scholars Baroque do not attain as high a level technically, but I find their performance more engaging and easier on the ear. I do not much care for the tone quality of the Cantus Cölln sopranos, who sound like high-pitched countertenors.
For what it's worth, my order of preference for the recordings I have heard would be (1) Jacobs (2) Herreweghe (3) Scholars Baroque (4) Cantus Cölln (5) Kammler (6) Ericson.
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 12, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Without the score in hand, a general listener would, in most of the recordings that I have listened to, be practically unaware of what is happening here. I would heartily recommend listening to what Marcus has described here to see if the performance(s) that you listen to a truly of high caliber or not. Although each entry is perhaps sung by as few as 2 or 3 (sometimes more) singers, it should be solid (not pianissimo or sung sotto voce) and clearly audible to the listener. >
Who are you to tell performers how to do their jobs, [not] using pianissimo (etc) as they see fit, and saying they're wrong when they don't live up to your expectations of score-reading, your expectation of plucking out every individual note by following along with a score, and hearing it as you see it on the page? Just wondering how you get to define what is "truly of high caliber", and how you've arrived at this particular expectation as the One True Way. This is a reality-check question.
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 12, 2004):
Truly high caliber
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Who are you to tell performers how to do their jobs, [not] using pianissimo (etc) as they see fit, and saying they're wrong when they don't live up to your expectations of score-reading, your expectation of plucking out every individual note by following along with a score, and hearing it as you see it on the page? Just wondering how you get to define what is "truly of high caliber", and how you've arrived at this particular expectation as the One True Way. This is a reality-check question. >
As I see it, it's idolatry of the score, plain and simple. You want to hear (very clearly) every blessed note that you paid your money to see on the page: every hallowed note written by the master composer, nothing more, nothing less...and disallow the composer to write effects and colors and shapes, as opposed to mere individual notes.
Everything reduces to the note, because that's what you see on the page and therefore expect to hear: a collection of perfectly clear notes, exactly as they look to you, exactly in the scores you purchased...as if the purchase of that has delivered unto you the composer's intentions and the composer's complete expectations.
How many listeners in Bach's time, at Sunday morning church or any other public occasion, sat there with scores, following along and castigating performers whenever individual notes were not audible enough to their satisfaction? That's right, the answer is zero. How did they discern high quality? By what moved them, with no score to look at.
How difficult is that to understand, as an aesthetic criterion?
The reductio ad absurdum on this one is easy. Is a "truly high caliber" performance of Beethoven's 6th symphony one where a listener with a score can pick out every individual note (lovingly handled, and as literally as possible); or one where the thunderstorm passage makes the listener think of a thunderstorm? (Ditto for Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" if people are not fans of Beethoven...arguably an even more effective thunderstorm there. Or, if the example must stick to Bach: the rumbly bit of the graves opening up, and the temple falling apart, when Jesus dies in the St Matthew Passion!)
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 12, 2004):
Brad Lehman’s comment (regarding the 'shortened accompaniment' of Bach's secco recitatives on the BachRecordings list):
>>...And in that setup of his [Monteverdi’s] written-out realization, of music that simply looks like recitative supported by whole notes and tied whole notes (i.e. just as plain recitative looks in Bach, 120 years later), here's his [Leppard’s] explanation of the way to read that basso continuo
>>From these very beginnings of opera, in the first decade of the 17th century, the continuo-notation of white notes in the bass meant that same thing...right into Bach's church music 120 years later, and beyond.<<
With careless musicological ‘insights’ such as this, ‘insights’ that refuse to recognize how quickly musical conventions had changed even within Bach’s lifetime, it is no small wonder that the opinions of those with degrees in music and musicology (assuming that you are representative of this group) are called into question!
As you stated in a different context today:
>>This is a reality-check question.<< (from Brad’s posting on the BachCantataRecording List)
>>Just wondering how you get to define what is "truly of high caliber", and how you've arrived at this particular expectatioas the One True Way.<<
Your expectation as to the One True Way are definitely flawed, a fact which you have amply demonstrated by not seriously considering other possibilities which run counter to the One True Way with which you comfortably cloak yourself without seriously desiring to examine various aspects which could undermine the false security which this ‘One True Way’ has offered you up to this point.
Thomas Braatz wrote (January 12, 2004):
Brad Lehman raised the following questions:
>>How many listeners in Bach's time, at Sunday morning church or any other public occasion, sat there with scores, following along and castigating performers whenever individual notes were not audible enough to their satisfaction? That's right, the answer is zero. How did they discern high quality? By what moved them, with no score to look at. How difficult is that to understand, as an aesthetic criterion?<<
You must remember that the congregation included some very musically astute listeners who knew how to listen for fugal structure as well as to the quality of Bach’s other compositional techniques which revealed the subtle ways in which he made the music fit the words (usually.) Bach knew that his audience (in the congregation) consisted of many who would ‘simply’ listen with their hearts, but he also included some rather complicated musical structures which others might recognize and appreciate as the work of a genius. These others would have been visiting dignitaries and even some famous musicians who happened to ‘be in town,’ as well as the educated elite at the university that may also have included some students who listened and perhaps even participated in the performances. But since Bach composed and performed his music for the glory of God, he may have set yet a higher standard of performing and listening, a standard which did not have to heed specifically the various levels of understanding present within the congregation/audience. This idealistic, even more perfect, audience was the one which Bach strove to ‘satisfy’ to the best of his abilities. Providing imitation thunderstorms or earthquakes (so that members of the congregation might return the next Sunday to see ‘what Bach would do to top this,’) was not Bach’s main objective, but rather fulfilling the human need for perfect structure and harmony as only he could envision it. The writing out of non-essential notes (or rests, for that matter) has no place in Bach’s scores. The structure of the composition (as pointed out by Marcus Song and Arjen Gijsell) must become apparent to the listener and should not display weakness or insufficiency, otherwise the sense of powerful, sustained joy which this composition should project is undermined entirely. These are reasonable expectations for any public performance or recording of this motet.
Charles Francis wrote (January 12, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote [regarding Truly high caliber]:
< I add:
As I see it, it's idolatry of the score, plain and simple. You want to hear (very clearly) every blessed note that you paid your money to see on the page: every hallowed note written by the master composer, nothing more, nothing less...and disallow the composer to write effects and colors and shapes, as opposed to mere individual notes. >
Doesn't it rather depend on the type of music? Imitating noise (e.g. wind, earthquakes, graves opening etc.) is one thing, but contrapuntal writing is another. Surely, it is the simultaneous perception of the linear that is the very raison d'etre of Bach's music?
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 12, 2004):
[To Charles Francis, regarding Truly high caliber] Is BWV 225 (which was the subject) about "Sing to the Lord eight separately perceptible strands of counterpoint"? No, it's about singing a song: a unified piece, an expression of joy, and praise of God for continued providence and care. The counterpoint in the composition is just a method of Bach's craft, not the end in itself. The point is the meaning of the words, overall.
Shouldn't that, then, be the criterion by which a performance is judged: whether it gets that message of joy/praise across? A group of people, eight or more, together singing a piece with that message. How well did the spirit and meaning of those words come across? In a performance of truly high caliber, they did so and God was praised very well, to the finest of human ability; in a less excellent performance, not.
Neil Halliday wrote (January 13, 2004):
[To Marcus Song] Thanks for this detailed analysis of BWV 225.
As soon as my copy arrives, I shall take note of the points you have made.
Peter Bright wrote (January 13, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman, regarding Truly high caliber] But aren't both ideals attainable? You make it sound like paying close regard to the counterpoint in Bach's music denies the possibility of hearing it as a song or 'an expression of joy'. I would argue that both aren't mutually exclusive. Otherwise, why would we want to listen to Bach at all? I know that your comments were specific to BWV 225, but I would have thought that the best performance is one that pays very close attention both to the interaction among the music parts (as Charles points out, the foundations of Bach's method), and the words of the song. One is seriously undermined by scant regard to the other. Please note that I am definitely NOT making any point about the relative merits of HIP vs non HIP practice - just a general observation on what makes a 'good' performance.
Zev Bechler wrote (January 15, 2004):
Thomas Braatz suggested that:
"since Bach composed and performed his music for the glory of God, he may have set yet a higher standard of performing and listening, a standard which did not have to heed specifically the various levels of understanding present within the congregation/audience. This idealistic, even more perfect, audience was the one which Bach strove to ‘satisfy’ to the best of his abilities. "
Thomas obviously meant "ideal" rather than "idealistic", but this was probably not what drew Bradley Lehman's retort, demanding proof that such audience really existed at all. Then, in answer to Thomas's demand that Bach's polyphony makes sense to the listener only if he can discern " clare et distincte" each part, preferably with a score in hand to untangle the audible mess, Brad retorted "How many listeners in Bach's time, at Sunday morning church or any other public occasion, sat there with scores, following along and castigating performers whenever individual notes were not audible enough to their satisfaction? "
One cannot avoid noting the typically down-to-earth, hardheaded, almost pragmatistic set of mind in these reactions of Brad , of the same kind that was exhibited in one of the list members snapping at Brad something like " who are you at all, does the President know your name ??", as well as of the same kind that unleashes from him from time to time a democratic criterion of esthetics-by-numbers, contrary to all he wants to stand for (e.g., academic learnedness, professional excellence, etc). Strange, but so true to the American mind.
Thomas makes a lot of sense to me and I would like to underline it. Bach did write for an ideal listener if he wrote for listeners at all. He wrote for souls rather than ears, the "affecten" aimed at being of the spirit rather than the senses, and he would have written the same even if he had no audience at all, just as he would even if he had no musicians able to perform his works (which is almost what happened). That "permissible delectation of the soul" is no entertainment of the general public and is not what we mean by recreation. In a very real sense, the physical performance of this stuff is accidental to this "delectation of the mind" and not of its essence. ( Whoever performed the KdF before the 20th century ??)
And no, I have no proof at all of any of this, but plenty of evidence directing me towards it.
Bradley Lehman wrote (January 15, 2004):
Ideal audiences, etc (not limited to BWV 225)
[To Zev Bechler] Well, that's certainly a mis-representation of my position, Zev!
My main point in those "retorts" to Thomas was: I felt he's conftechnique (contrapuntal workout, Bach's method of composition, his toolbox) over content (meaning) of the music.
If the performers, and the listener, focus too closely on the individual notes and their separate intelligibility, instead of on the larger shapes of the phrases and the overall meaning of the piece (getting the message of its words across), I feel the whole venture degenerates into pedanticism. The old phrase, "missing the forest for the trees." If the piece can't flow, as a whole, from its first note to its last over the 20 minutes (or whatever), it's lost something crucial.
Certainly, detail is also very important and can be exquisite, and can have plenty of meaning in itself...but isn't it even more important to keep that big picture, the broad canvas of the music? And the way (in the case of the cantatas) it was used as an integral part of a worship service, not standing entirely on its own, but tied to the other things that were being spoken about and sung about in the occasion?
Think about it from Bach's point of view (a hypothetical one, of course): when he wrote these things and performed them to suit an immediate need, did he expect that people 280 years later would be sitting in their houses, staring at a copy of a score, people who are not active performing musicians themselves, listening to a recording over and over to pick out every single note? If anyone here believes he had any such intentions for such a future, I'd like to see some evidence. Closer to the truth, I'd guess, is that he expected only performers to take such a close X-ray view of things, as part of preparing performances and making decisions; and trusting performers to put across resulting performances where listeners got the full effect of the music (all detail integrated into a big clear vision)...not so much its minutiae of structure.
And, of course, there was also no way to repeat the same performance exactly the same way 50 times, as happens now when people listen to recordings. No matter how closely a performer has studied the music, the performance will always be somewhat different every time: performers and listeners are all human, different every time, we're not machines.
It then comes back to a crucial decision to be made by the performers and producer of a recording: should the work in front of the microphones still sound like a believable performance, focusing on the big vision for an audience who isn't sitting there with X-ray ears and scores; or should it be something entirely different, for the [fewer] listeners who will be sitting there expecting to hear every single note in exactly the way they'd hoped, "grading" the effort against a score, and ready to blame the performers (blasting them in a public forum) for every little thing they disagree with?
That whole literalistic expectation of 'absolute fidelity to the letter of the score, above all' goes back only as far as Toscanini, in the 1880s, anyway (and Toscanini's own repertoire went back only as far as Gluck; and the extreme literalism in his own manner was probably tied to his own photographic memory of scores, the way he decided authority)...so why should it be foisted upon Bach by that latter set of listeners? It's an anachronistic expectation, from a culture of people (mostly passive listeners, not active performers themselves) whose listening habits have been changed so profoundly by Toscanini et al!
That expectation of literalism, now, fails to take Bach and his work on the terms under which the music was created: that it's not immediately repeatable in playback, exactly, and that absolute fidelity to every letter of the score was ever such a goal of Bach's as it has been since Toscanini!
Where does this Toscanini-citation come from? I quoted some paragraphs from Taruskin's Text and Act on the BachRecordings list yesterday, about this post-Toscanini difference in people's listening habits; he also ties in Stravinsky and Satie for those profound changes early in the 20th century...all (as he notes) anti-Teutonic, and "antiromantic", and fundamentally against the spiritual content of the music (performer/executants now preferring to give us notes and other "facts" instead of focusing on deeper meanings).
Also, I've reread the Toscanini chapter in Harold Schonberg's The Great Conductors, where the assessment of Toscanini and his legacy is similar...this is not Taruskin going off with a rant. (As I recall from fuller-length books I've read about Toscanini, some years ago, it's also not Harold Schonberg making up anything here...this stuff about Toscanini's approach and his influence is well-established.) When Wagner's own published essays about conducting and about his own works are considered (I read them, years ago) next to Toscanini's recordings of Wagner, and the reports of Toscanini's live performances, it's clear: Toscanini revered only the letter of the score and disdained all other traditions and instructions--even direct ones from the composer, as here--to suit the way he himself memorized music (right down to the letter of every detail), and to be brought out with his own priorities of precision-over-content.
Toscanini's approach fostered much greater precision of execution by orchestras, raising standards in that direction, unquestionably; but at the same time, as a consequence, other numinous qualities of the music got drilled out of it, until (now) the assumption is that the music never really had such numinous qualities beyond the notes. (The rival "school" of Furtwängler, Mengelberg, et al, notwithstanding.) Anything not seen directly in the score became dismissed as merely arbitrary, against the incontrovertible "facts" about the music directly from the composer.
And that's what all of us have inherited, from Toscanini himself and the most recent century of imitators of that approach. It has reshaped the way all of us expect to hear music--and lost the way composers more likely intended it to be heard, and lost the way composers wrote it with the expectation that performers/improvisers would be co-creators. The expectation of 'score-above-all' is the most obvious and most profound change here, followed closely by the precise execution of it (subtract the performer's own personality, and anything else, as being too arbitrary), as if the score were ever a sufficient set of instructions by itself to perform the music correctly.
If we're arguing about populist stuff, and majority-aesthetics and the like, Zev, why not cite those late 19th and 20th century fundamental changes? Those have shaped us all. (And yes, I grew up with at least 30 or 40 of the Toscanini recordings, too...admiring them very much, and using that approach of crisp precision and score-reverence as a basic model for my own playing...even when applied to earlier music that it probably "shouldn't" be applied to.)
Myself, now, I'd rather hear and perform Bach's music with (as far as can be determined, reasonably) the aesthetics in which it was created, and intended, by him...and at the level of understanding (broad strokes, and the meaning of the words) at which he [probably] expected his parishioners to pick it up. They didn't have scores. They were there for church. They were there to worship God, or at least to put in attendance. If there were a very small handful of "connoisseurs" (as Thomas asserts without proof) who also could pick up some of the finer points of the counterpoint as it zoomed by, fine; that also happens today as some of us who are highly trained in music can pick up such details on first hearing. That fact, itself, does not prove that the "best" way to perform Bach's music today is for the delectation of those few who revel in minutiae; it simply says that there's a seemingly inexhaustible source of good stuff that can be picked up in the music, even if the performance (more properly, I'd say) focuses most of the attention on bigger shapes and meanings.
When I hear somebody else playing something in church, yes, I'm also sitting there analyzing the composition as a listener, picking out as many details as I can without a score, and enjoying the way piece is put together. But, the person playing that piece should not be doing so principally for my benefit as a highly trained musician, but rather to put across the meaning of the piece to as many people in the congregation as possible, to help them worship God while worshiping God himself/herself through the performance, whatever the musical expectations of any other listeners (and God's expectations as a listener, as if anybody could know that) might be.
That's, I believe, the forest that should not be lost among the trees of contrapuntal details, and the trees of a literalistic expectation listening with a score (which is, after all, a 20th century phenomenon and not an 18th).
And who were Bach's connoisseurs, really? The ones who could play through his pieces for themselves and relish the wealth of craftsmanship in them...not the ones who sit there with scores listening to other people play them, and complaining whenever things don't go the way they'd hoped. Connoisseurs, chez Bach, were the people who can do similar things, with inside knowledge of the craft and hard work that went into it, and therefore appreciate the exquisite beauty of the structure and content, as a model. A person wanting to buy his first publication, the keyboard partitas, had to pay as much as the cost of a harpsichord...the book was that expensive! And then, the person had to be able to play it, too, to find out what was in there. Ditto for the Art of Fugue (published posthumously, granted...but still it had to be played, experienced in the fingers, by the person wanting to know it...not merely listened to.) Connoisseurship was not a passive thing.
See also the chapters in Quantz' book where he describes what real connoisseurs are, and where he lays out the contemporary standards "How a Musician and Musical Composition are to be Judged." The focus is on bringing out the meaning of the music, above mere technical competence. The whole book takes the student from basic flute technique through advanced musicianship, applicable to all instruments and voices, and applicable to connoisseurs. Precision was not an end in itself.
There's also a chapter about the things a performer must think about playing in public, as opposed to playing merely for his own enjoyment or study...public performance calling for a definite strategy from the performer, some adjustments of approach. See especially paragraphs 20 and 23 of that, where he says how important it is for a performer to consider the level of his audience's musical understanding, and play to that rather than to his own priorities. [And now, I expect, there will be plenty of bashing back on this point by various people here...including some howls from an extremely shallow assumption that "Quantz applies only to degenerate galant music!!!!", typically from some here who have not even read his book to see what it really says...who look merely at its date and at their own disdain for Quantz's own music, and thereby assume Quantz has nothing of value to say about aesthetics or connoisseurship, and nothing of relevant value to say about Bach.]
Johan van Veen wrote (January 16, 2004):
Zev Bechler wrote:
< Thomas makes a lot of sense to me and I would like to underline it. Bach did write for an ideal listener if he wrote for listeners at all. >
If he composed his music to underline the message of the sermon of a particular Sunday, how should he not write for listeners? And what does the 'ideal' listener look like? I don't believe for a moment he only composed for a part of the congregation, but for the whole of it. That doesn't imply everyone understands as much as someone else. But would every member of the congregation have understood every aspect of the sermon?
< He wrote for souls rather than ears, the "affecten" aimed at being of the spirit rather than the senses, >
Is it possible to 'split' them? The 'Affekte' can only be taken notice of by the soul through the senses. How else?
Zev Bechler wrote (January 17, 2004):
Johan van Veen asked:
"If he composed his music to underline the message of the sermon of a particular Sunday, how should he not write for listeners? And what does the 'ideal' listener look like? "
Well, let me try this one: The ideal listener would look like JSB himself, minus all that is irrelevant to music ( his weight, taste in food, marital status, and such further accidentals), and would understand everything JSB intended when writing the piece, e.g., that five descending pitches in semitones refer to Jesus' stigmata and the sorrow involved, etc. He would understand completely the full intricacy that JSB invested in the structural details of the work. He would be overwhelmed by the sophistication that went into welding the technical detail to the emotional baggage thus created, and would be awed by the sheer beauty of the synthesis.
This could not have been any of the standard Sunday audience, not even his own pupils. The closest would be , maybe, some of his sons. Maybe. Anyway, I suspect that writing for Soli Deo Gloria (which I , an established and extreme atheist, take to be of immense importance as a clue to JSB's intent and meaning) is irreconcilable with writing for the Sunday audience or even for a part of it, as much in the sacred works as in the esoteric work (think of the violin solo works, not to mention the KdF and such), where none of the easy illustrations of "affects", that are so plentiful in the
vocal works, is available.
<< He wrote for souls rather than ears, the "Affecten" aimed at being of the spirit rather than the senses, >>
< Is it possible to 'split' them? The 'Affekte' can only be taken notice of by the soul through the senses. How else? >
Yes, it is certainly possible. And, moreover, where soul is an entity distinct and so already "split" from the body, and thus from the senses, as in the Christian faith, this is even necessary. Such a separation takes place every time we think, or when the writer is writing his work and then each time he reads it . No sound there, but everything he created is, and fully present to his soul.
Weigh now the alternative: Would you be willing to conclude from your own view that had the standard Sunday audience happened to constantly remain un-affected by the actual sounds, JSB's work would be a failure ? I have a hunch you would not. So ?? It seems to me that one has only these two gates open to him but neither both nor a middle: Either your view of the actual-listener, and then some kind of a down-to-earth, robust, statistics-goverened esthtics and evaluation that must go along with it, or the ideal-listener fiction . I have never met with any middle path and most certaily cannot take the first. Nor have I ever met with anyone who could, though most people like to declare they actually do.
Uri Golomb wrote (January 17, 2004):
Zev Bechler wrote:
< Anyway, I suspect that writing for Soli Deo Gloria ( which I , an established and extreme atheist, take to be of immense importance as a clue to JSB's intent and meaning) >
Not in itself. The "S.D.Gl." insignia does not distinguish Bach from many of his contemporaries; Reinhardt Keiser, for instance, also wrote "Soli Deo Gloria" (sometimes in full, sometimes "S.D.Gl")in the manuscripts of many of his sacred works (I'm not sure about his secular works -- all I've seen is facsimiles of some of his psalm-settings). That signature was a convention at the time. It would be interesting to know if Bach used it more frequently and consistently than most of his contemporaries and compatriots (I do not know the answer to that question).
Zev Bechler wrote (January 18, 2004):
[To Uri Golmb] Thanks Uri. Didnt know that. Would you say it functioned like the Jewish B"H or the Muslim Bismi'lla, as just automatic header and footer ?
Uri Golomb wrote (January 18, 2004):
[To Zev Bechler] Let me be careful: I suspect that this is indeed the case, but wouldn't to claim this with absolute certainty. More research should be done to verify this, and I cannot do this research at present. All I can say with confidence is that Bach and Keiser were not the only ones to employ this designation. I'dbe very surprised if the use "S.D.Gl" was unique to musicians, so research would also need to examine other documents besides musical manuscripts...
Let me also say that I do not wish to cast doubt on Bach's devoutness, only on the status of the "Jesu Juva" and "S.D.Gl" insignia as evidence for his devoutness. For me, his annotation of his personal copy of the bible is much more convincing. We should also distinguish between two types of statements:
1) Bach was more devout than most or all of his colleagues;
2) Bach's church music expresses his religious faith better than the church music of most or all of his colleagues.
I accept the second statement without hesitation; I am not so sure about the first.
Rémi Schulz wrote (January 18, 2004):
[To Zev Bechler] It's sure that many artists used SDG, but not many of them showed a numeric relation with the formula (JSB = SDG = 29). I studied in a French page an interpretation of SDG in WTC 1, I see a relation with another numeric coincidence that could be considered:
B-A = 2-1 C-H = 3-8
GO = 21 TT = 38 (Gott = God)
Bach's OPUS 1 begins with pieces of 21 and 38 bars, and this 38 is quite unusual for a dance which has normally a square number of bars, and actually Partita in B (BWV 825) is composed, with repeats, of:
1 time 21 bars of Prelude
2 times 38 bars of Allemande
3 times 38 bars of Menuet I
8 times 38 bars, average number for the 4 other dances
The 1st fugue of WTC 2 (BWV 870b) has a theme of 21 notes and an exposition of 12 bars (/83) where there are:
middle voice, 21 notes of C-theme and 38 notes
alto, 21 notes of G-theme + 17 notes = 38
bass, 21 notes of C-theme
i.e. a kind of cross, 21+38 between 21 and 38
and notes 28 to 31 of alto voice are HCAB
After the normal opening blank of 8 bars in bass voice, there is a quite unusual one for a three voices fugue, 13 bars long, and the bass restarts at bar 39 with another theme. So there is 21 bars of blank bass within the first 38 bars.
In WTC 1 the first set BWC 846 has 1283 notes, beginning with the arpeggio CEGCEGCE = 38 and ending with the chord CCEGC = 21.
I consider the idea that, as well as harmony and technical skill, the numerology might be graduated in these sets of pieces.
Sorry to be so far from BWV 225, I ask again if anyone knows of a list more devoted to Bach's numbers.
Discussions in the Week of December 27, 2009
Neil Halliday wrote (December 27, 2009):
Discussion: BWV 225 "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied"
Following the score of "Bach's greatest motet" while listening to the music is certainly a challenging and rewarding experience. (You can follow the BGA score available at the BCW while playing the CD on your computer; choir I sounds in the left speaker, and choir II sounds in the right; I have Rilling's recording).
This double-choir motet is cast in four "movements", in the key of Bb.
The first movement, in 3/4 time, begins with complex eight-part writing featuring antiphonal effects and swapping of material between the two choirs: "Sing to the Lord a new song; the assembly of righteous shall praise him. Israel rejoices in this, who He has made". The spirited dactyl rhythm dominates this section
A complex fugue (with a very long fugue subject) then follows, set to "The children of Zion are joyful about their King, they shall praise His name with dancing; with drums and harps shall they to Him play".
Fugue entries in the order S,A,T, B in choir I are accompanied by non-fugal counterpoint in choir II which repeats over and over the first line of text (from the previous section), until the bass entry of the fugue subject in choir I is joined by the bass entry in choir II, whereupon the fugue subject moves upward, in the order B,T,A,S through the voices in both choirs . The remainder of the movement is too complex to describe here; the structure of the music and the setting of the text over all eight vocal lines is breathtaking. Toward the end, the two choirs double one another except for the sopranos which move in parallel thirds; finally the basses double one-another while the S,A,T sections of both choirs respond antiphonally.
No wonder that Mozart at the height of his powers in 1789, on hearing this motet, asked to see the score; whereas as a 14 year old he reportedly was able to write down Allegri's Miserere from memory after hearing it in the Sistine chapel.
The fugue subject itself features an incredibly long melisma on "Reihen"; and the countersubject has word-painting on "Pauken" (drums) seen as ascending - descending notes of the common chord; this 'motif' first appears with the third entry of the fugue subject, because the subject and countersubject are so long.
[BTW, the BGA has "Reigen" instead of "Reihen", but I can't find "Reigen" in my (small) German dictionary. I presume "im Reihen" (lit. "in rows" ie, with dancing) is the correct word].
The second movement, in 4/4 time, has twelve 4-part chorale phrases in choir II (the first ten phrases are in "plain" fashion), each of which is interspersed with concerted counterpoint sections in choir I initially repeating the same line of text five times :"God, carry it likewise to us", before progressing with the rest of its text. The last two phrases of the chorale in choir II: "Thus Man perishes", and "his end is to him near", are set to lovely concerted writing similar to that which has been heard thus far in choir I. (Rilling slows expressively here). Choir I alone concludes this movement with repetitions of "Well him, who firmly and steadfastly on You and Your protection trusts (depends)".
The third movement: "Praise the Lord in his deeds, praise Him in His great glory" continues in 4/4 time at a quicker tempo (although not indicated in the score, a faster tempo is obviously appropriate); the two choirs continually alternate with one another until combining briefly at the end.
Finally, in the fourth movement we have a powerful 4-voice fugue, in 3/8 time, with the two choirs doubling one another: "All that breath have, praise the Lord, Halleluja". The Bethlehem Choir commentary points to the similarity of this fugue subject with "Pleni sunt" from the BMM.
From the Bethlehem Bach Choir entry: "Four (motets), including Singet dem Herrn, were written for double chorus without instrumental accompaniment, although in Bach's day he sometimes doubled the voices
with instruments for additional support. (Instrumental parts in Bach's hand do survive, but Bach himself indicated that he preferred to use them only as a "crutch".)"
Interestingly, Kuijken uses strings and woodwinds to double the voices with charming effect; the instrumental timbres add considerable colour to the vocal lines. (Unfortunately, there appears to be little spatial separation of the two choirs in this recording, judging from the sample).
However, in the very fine recording from the Hilliard Ensemble, without any instrumental colour, the 'purity' of the choral sound is most attractive and probably that which Bach would have preferred
(judging form the "crutch" comment above).
Moving backwards in time, Beringer and the Winsbacher choir, another class act, also has some instrumental backing, but his larger choral forces dominate the overall sound. This is likely among the finest recordings of the motets.
Further back, Gardiner's BCW sample has a wonderfully full sound in the 'chorale movement' of BWV225, requiring further investigation of this recording. I'll explore some more examples later.
Here is the link to all the information, including BGA score and recording samples, at the BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV225-231.htm
From that page, Bethlehem Choir's commentary on BWV 225: http://www.bach.org/bach101/motets/singet.html
[Hoping everyone here is well this holiday season, despite the rather desperate world]
Richard Mix wrote (December 29, 2009):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< [BTW, the BGA has "Reigen" instead of "Reihen", but I can't find "Reigen" in my (small) German dictionary. I presume "im Reihen" (lit. "in rows" ie, with dan) is the correct word]. >
Better upgrade! That's really not bad for a guess: the Erlking's daughters do dance in rows, but think of Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen (Dichterliebe ix), which can only rhyme with a ring dance.
Neil Halliday wrote (December 29, 2009):
Richard Mix wrote:
Yes, I suppose I should-:)
Actually, I see the all the BCW German texts have "Reihen", as does the Rilling booklet, all conflicting with the BGA. A better translation of "im Reihen" - if this is the correct word - is "in procession" (as per one of the BCW translations).
[But then "Reihen" has a different meaning from the "dance" seen in the English Psalm 149, v.3, King James Version. No matter; the word painting on "Reigen" or "Reihen", through the extraordinarily long melisma, holds in either case.
Ed Myskowski wrote (January 8, 2010):
Last week, I noticed the following comment by Steve Schwartz, filed in the BCW archives witin the review of the Harnoncourt version of the motets (BWV 225-230). I actually had a bit of trouble recovering it just now, by searching BCW, and so decided to write for the record:
<Now, it takes a choir that doesn't suck just to get through these pieces [the motets]. It takes a great choir to do them badly. It takes an even better, even luckier choir than that to convey the wonder and drama of the music. I'll say right now that my favorite performance was from the Aeolian Singers, I assume a pick-up group of the top British ensemble singers of the Sixties. Naturally, British Decca has never transferred it to CD. It's a cappella and an heroic achievement.> (end quote)
As it happens, my only recording of the motets for many years was one volume of the two LP set by the Aeolian Singers, unfortunately Vol. 2 which I acquired for BWV 227, but which does not have either BWV 225 or BWV 226. It never occured to me that the a cappella performance was unusual.
I will wait until BWV 227 comes up in discussion for detailed comments, but a quick listen and comparison with the Bach Edition (Corboz) leads me to agree with Steve: an heroic achievement.
(1) Is it still true that the Aeolian Singers performances have not been reissued on CD?
(2) Are there other a cappella performances of the motets which might be of comparable quality, and which might also in fact provide a convenient point of listening comparison for Bach versus renaissance composers?
Douglas Cowling wrote (January 8, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Are there other a cappella performances of the motets which might be of comparable quality, and which might also in fact provide a convenient point of listening comparison for Bach versus renaissance composers? >
It's worth noting that unaccompanied performance is not a hallmark of Renaissance music. Only the Sistine Chapel choir performed without instrumental or organ support. The Julian and Pauline Chapels had organs and instrumental ensemble. All of Victoria's Vespers music for double choir was published with organ doubling. "A Capella" is a myth.
It was against this "norm" that Romantic commentators judged the surviving instrumental parts for several of the Bach motets. These parts were deemed to be "crutches" because Bach's choirs were so inadequate that they could not perform unaccompanied. This "evidence" became part of the Incompetent and Exhausted Choir Myth which is still flogged.
In fact, the doubling of choral parts was normative in Lutheran music as early as Praetorius, just as there may have been instrumental doubling during congregational hymns. There's at least one engraving showing an enesemble of strings, winds and both organ and harpsichord accompanying a chorale.
The instrumental parts show a careful attention to orchestral colour, one choir doubled with strings and the other by winds (oboes, taille and presumably bassoon).
I suspect that the only time you could have heard Bach's choir singing completely "a capella" was if you went along at 5 am to St. Nicholas to hear the scholarship boys singing Latin psalms to Gregorian chant.
Ed Myskowski wrote (January 8, 2010):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It's worth noting that unaccompanied performance is not a hallmark of Renaissance music. [...] "A Capella" is a myth. >
In that case, I suppose a more appropriate question would be to begin a recommmended selection of works/recordings to compare Renaissance and Baroque polyphony, with emphasis (or at least relevance) to Bach. Perhaps with an eye to the points of comparison started in outline by Julian near the beginning of what became the polyphony thread, which I believe he raised as questions aimed at stimulating discussion.
Regardless of performance authenticity, I am still interested in either a CD reissue of the Aeolian Singers a cappella performances of Bachs motets, which I continue to enjoy, or a comparable alternative. Suggestions solicited.
Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 8, 2010):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< In that case, I suppose a more appropriate question would be to begin a recommmended selection of works/recordings to compare Renaissance and Baroque polyphony, with emphasis (or at least relevance) to Bach. Perhaps with an eye to the points of comparison >
I highly recommend this recording of Jakob Obrecht's Requiem: Amazon.com
It's an audio CD and includes a DVD documentary and a performance of the Requiem (only 8 voices). I picked this up at J and R Music World on sale for 15.00 (New York City) but it is available on Amazon as well. The reviews on Amazon are stellar.
I hope you enjoy the music.
Ed Myskowski wrote (January 9, 2010):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< I highly recommend this recording of Jakob Obrecht's Requiem: Amazon.com
The reviews on Amazon are stellar. >
Thanks for taking up the positive spirit of the thread. The Amazon reviews are worth reading in their own right, for some of the informative performance details included.
The following comments were written prior to reading Kim's post, and are mostly unrelated. I hope it is not confusing to append them here; they do share the BWV 225 subject header:
Some further thoughts on a variety of details re BWV 225, and other items recently posted with subject headings: BWV 226, (question), polyphony/counterpoint., et al.
I only today got around to Neils suggestion, from his intro last week, to listen to BWV 225 while scrolling through the pdf download of the BGA score. I do not find this task quite as trivial as Neil made it sound. In case others share that opinion: you are not alone.
Nevertheless, I do find reference to the score enlightening to my enjoyment of the music. I almost always find that to be true, but an extra nod to Neil for recommending it in this particular instance, to fully appreciate the polyphony. Even with my dinosaur dial-up connection, the download is complete, although of course slow. For extensive and entertaining discussion of the vices and virtues of score reference while listening, the BCW archive re BWV 225 is particularly rich.
I am curious about the (apparent?) discrepancy between Dougs comment: <A Cappella is a myth> and the comment cited by Neil from the Bach Bethlehem Choir notes, that <instrumental doubling of the vocal lines in BWV 225 is a crutch> (attributed to Bach, without source).
[Subsequent insertion: I believe the Obrecht Requiem Kim recommended is 8 voices, a cappella. The same is true of a 1996 CD by the Tallis Scholars I happen to have on the shelf: Obrecht, Missa Maria Zart.]
I expect it was apparent from my previous comments that I consider discovery of the phrase copped a serve (roughly: got unjust or undeserved punishment) to be a personal highlight. It turns out that the phrase can be reconstructed from tdefinitions of cop and serve in <Partridges Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English>, but I am happy that I first went to google, and came up up with the Australian prison slang origin of the phrase. It is analogous to others in Partridge: cop a feel, cop a plea, cop out, and a favorite (new to me): cop a flower pot. Rhyming slang for cop it hot (get in trouble), with the suggestion that a flower pot (thrown at one, or on ones fresh grave, for example) can indicate big trouble, indeed.
A final thought: I went back to the pdf score download for another try, with a BBC Singers/Cleobury CD of BWV 225. The stereo separation, even through headphones, is not especially pronounced. I find the organ accompaniment a distraction rather than a help in grasping the polyphony. Following a score by scrolling through a pdf in real time is not for this Old Dude, as yet, but I do repeat my thanks to Neil for the suggestion to give it a try, and for reminding us that the counterpoint is much easier to perceive with help from the score. I will revisit his intro to refresh my memory as to his recommended recording (I noted that I do not have it, on first reading).
Motets BWV 225-231: Details
Recordings: Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001
General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Systematic Discussions: BWV 225 | BWV 226 | BWV 227 | BWV 228 | BWV 229 | BWV 230 | BWV 231 | BWV 225-231 - Summary
Individual Recordings: Motets - K. Junghänel & Cantus Cölln | Motets - E. Ericson | Motets - D. Fasolis | Motets - N. Harnoncourt | Motets - R. Kammler