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Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

Magnificat BWV 243
General Discussions - Part 4

Continue from Part 3

BWV 243 Magnificat Transposition

Charles Francis wrote (November 1, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Incidentally, is the phrase "those most in tune with equal temperament" a typo by Charles, where "those most in tune with unequal temperament" makes more sense?] >
The wording used is: "those most in tune in unequal temperaments". Apologies for the typo.

< "However, this argument is not a strong one. Already much earlier Bach transposed compositions into a different key, e.g. the Magnificat from Eb into D, the partita (Clavieruebung II) from c into b, etc. More detailed investigations could perhaps shed more light on the problems connected with their temperament." >
Allow me to supply a few thoughts, here, concerning the Magnificat.

The E-flat major version was written for Christmas 1723 and contains Christmas laudes (several interpolated Christmas texts). Wolff places Bach's reworked second version between 1732 and 1735 (1733 in his chronology table). At this time Bach undertook substantial updates of the earlier work, transposing it to D major and removing the Christmas laudes to make it liturgically suitable for performance at other times of year.

The rationale for the new version has been explained in terms of the obsolescent nature of the trumpets needed to perform in E-flat major, the transposition to a more trumpet-friendly key (D major) and the generalisation of the work so that it doesn't have to be performed at Christmas. Of interest, Wolff speculates that it would have been logical for Bach to revise his Magnificat, his only large-scale piece of Latin church music, in conjunction with the Kyrie-Gloria Mass project (BWV 232) in 1733. He suggests that the D major Magnificat was first performed at the Vespers service of July 2, 1733, the Marian feast of the Visitation, but offers no evidence to support that contention. Another commentator, Paul McCreesh, notes that the revision was made after 1732. Interestingly, he makes the observation that Bach's revision is written out in a particularly neat hand, indicating that he may have intended the revised Magnificat as a calling card for potential employment in Dresden. In my opinion, McCreesh's suggestion is consistent with the facts available to us and indeed sits better with those facts than alternative hypotheses. First, valveless metal instruments would not deteriorate so easily over a ten year period, so why were they apparently no longer available to Bach? Secondly, if D major was an optimum key for trumpet performance, why choose E-flat major in the first place? Third, the removal of the Christmas laudes to allow the work to be played at a different time of year is explained. One imagines that Bach's D major Magnificat, like Christmas carols in our time, would develop a specific association for the Leipzig congregation. Not the case, however, for a Dresden congregation.

But then to the issue of key transposition. Was it simply that trumpets of the type Bach used in Leipzig were not available in Dresden, so compelling him to transpose the work? Was it perhaps a temperament or Kammerton/Tief Kammerton issue, making his existing Leipzig version unplayable on the Dresden (Silbermann?) organ. Perhaps the knowledgeable Mr. Braatz is reading and might wish to carry this line of thought further? Notwithstanding, the point in all these scenarios, is that Bach would be compelled to transpose the work to make a Dresden performance possible.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (November 2, 2003):
[To Charles Francis] Don't forget the timing. The earlier version (1723) was written for the first Christmas Service at his new post as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. For the revision (1732-1735, but most likely 1732), the Christmas inserts would have been irrelevent.

Thomas Braatz wrote (November 2, 2003):
Brad Lehmann had written:
>>However, this argument is not a strong one. Already much earlier Bach transposed compositions into a different key, e.g. the Magnificat from Eb into D, the partita (Clavieruebung II) from c into b, etc. More detailed investigations could perhaps shed more light on the problems connected with their temperament.<<
To which Charles replied:
>>Allow me to supply a few thoughts, here, concerning the Magnificat. The E-flat major version was written for Christmas 1723 and contains Christmas laudes (several interpolated Christmas texts). Wolff places Bach's reworked second version between 1732 and 1735 (1733 in his chronology table). At this time Bach undertook substantial updates of the earlier work, transposing it to D major and removing the Christmas laudes to make it liturgically suitable for performance at other times of year.

The rationale for the new version has been explained in terms of the obsolescent nature of the trumpets needed to perform in E-flat major, the transposition to a more trumpet-friendly key (D major) and the generalisation of the work so that it doesn't have to be performed at Christmas. Of interest, Wolff speculates that it would have been logical for Bach to revise his Magnificat, his only large-scale piece of Latin church music, in conjunction with the Kyrie-Gloria Mass project (BWV 232) in 1733. He suggests that the D major Magnificat was first performed at the Vespers service of July 2, 1733, the Marian feast of the Visitation, but offers no evidence to support that contention. Another commentator, Paul McCreesh, notes that the revision was made after 1732. Interestingly, he makes the observation that Bach's revision is written out in a particularly neat hand, indicating that he may have intended the revised Magnificat as a calling card for potential employment in
Dresden. In my opinion, McCreesh's suggestion is consistent with the facts available to us and indeed sits better with those facts than alternative hypotheses. First, valveless metal instruments would not deteriorate so easily over a ten year period, so why were they apparently no longer available to Bach? Secondly, if D major was an optimum key for trumpet performance, why choose E-flat major in the first place? Third, the removal of the Christmas laudes to allow the work to be played at a different time of year is explained. One imagines that Bach's D major Magnificat, like Christmas carols in our time, would develop a specific association for the Leipzig congregation. Not the case, however, for a Dresden congregation.

But then to the issue of key transposition. Was it simply that trumpets of the type Bach used in
Leipzig were not available in Dresden, so compelling him to transpose the work? Was it perhaps a temperament or Kammerton/Tief Kammerton issue, making his existing Leipzig version unplayable on the Dresden (Silbermann?) organ. Perhaps the knowledgeable Mr. Braatz is reading and might wish to carry this line of thought further? Notwithstanding, the point in all these scenarios, is that Bach would be compelled to transpose the work to make a Dresden performance possible.<<
Thanks, Charles, for even considering that I might have something of interest to add to your excellent summary of existing theories regarding Bach’s transposition from Eb to D major. There is not much more to add it, except, perhaps, to point out the sources for these theories and add to few insights that I have gleaned from these and other sources.

1. Simon Heighes’ article and bibliography on Bach’s Magnificat in the Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach [Boyd-Oxford, 1999], although interesting as a quick, current summary,leaves much to be desired. In particular, he refers to Don Smithers’ article, “Anomalies of Tonart and Stimmton in the First Version of Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 243a”, Bach 27/2 (1996) simply by tantalizing (and frustrating) the reader with the statement that “possible reasons for Bach’s choice of key have been thoroughly examined by Don Smithers.” Who would not be interested in finding out what the main points in this article are? Certainly a short list/summary of these points could have been included without expanding the article too much. By not mentioning these points, it appears that nothing considerably new was indicated by Smithers. It may simply have been a rehash of already existing theories as seen from the point of view of a Baroque trumpeter, but even that might have been interesting indeed.

2. The Csibas in their book “Die Blechblasinstrumente in J. S. Bachs Werken” (Kassel, 1994) list, among other sources consulted, some articles and a book by Smithers (as late as 1987) and seem to be well aware of Smithers’ contributions on the subject of Bach’s use of brass instruments. I think we can assume that there were no new earth-shaking theories or thoughts that Smithers included in the article to which Heighes refers.

3. The Csibas point out (as did Dürr earlier) that BWV 243a uses the trombae in Eb in this version. Nowhere else does this instrument appear in Bach’s oeuvre. The Csibas include pictures of this instrument along with trombae in D, all made by J. W. Haas of Nürnberg c. 1700 (now in a Leipzig museum – items 1789, 1791, 1787 {these are not dates!}) For almost all of his church compositions, Bach primarily used trombae in C and D, about equally distributed between both types.

4. It is possible that Bach, along with inheriting the tradition of including the ‘laudes,’ when he assumed his position in Leipzig, also ‘inherited’ the players and instruments (the trombae in Eb) from his predecessors as well. Edward H Tarr (in the New Grove) indicates that both Mersenne (1636-7) and Altenburg (1795) give the tube length of the trombae as 224 cm (for D or Eb trombae), but the Csibas in their text and the picture referred to above, show that there was a size difference between them with the Eb tromba being slightly smaller in length than the D tromba, as one might expect. These Eb trombae seem to have been going out of favor even before Bach finally arrived to stay in Leipzig.

5. Peter R Cooke in his article on pitch in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003) gives more detailed information on the Leipzig tradition for using the Eb tromba:
>>At Leipzig, the performing materials for most of Bach's vocal works indicate that the strings, voices and woodwinds were at Cammerton and the organ and brass were a major 2nd higher. Bach's predecessor, Johann Kuhnau, had specified in 1717 that the pitch of the organs at the Thomas- and Nicolaikirchen was Cornet-ton. But Kuhnau had used figural instruments at intervals of both a 2nd and a minor 3rd below Cornet-ton, ‘depending’, he said, ‘on which is most convenient’ (i.e. which pitch would yield mutually satisfying keys). He had woodwinds available, in other words, at both normal Cammerton and at tief-Cammerton. Since tonalities with open strings were preferable on the string instruments, and appropriate tonalities were critical for the unkeyed woodwinds, the presence of woodwinds tuned a semitone apart was extremely practical: it offered Kuhnau a choice of more combinations of keys in which to compose.

During Bach's first year and a half at Leipzig, he took advantage of this option by writing several cantatas at tief-Cammerton: BWV 22, BWV 23, BWV 63 and BWV 194, and also the first version of the Magnificat. (Cantatas BWV 22 and BWV 23 were his trial pieces and were performed together; Cantata BWV 63 had been conceived some years earlier, probably for performance at tief-Cammerton, and in Leipzig was performed on the same day as the Magnificat – which, with Cantata BWV 194, had antecedents in Cöthen.) The last known date that Bach used the tief-Cammerton option with his regular winds was 4 June 1724. He revised the Magnificat for a performance in the 1730s, transposing it from Eb to D, probably because tief-Cammerton woodwinds were no longer available. Questions of notation and transposition caused by pitch differences affect the following works by Bach: BWV 12, 18, 21, 22, 23, 31, 63, 70a, 71, 80a, 106, 131, 132, 147a, 150, 152, 155, 161, 162, 172, 182, 185, 186a, 194, 199, 208 and 243a. Most but not all these questions are addressed by the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (for a detailed discussion, see Haynes, A1995).<<

The New Grove (1995) (Mark Lindley & Klaus Wachsmann) state in their article on pitch: "Bach is known, of course, to have transposed certain of his compositions of which two versions exist (though rarely by a semitone, which would entail pronounced differences of intonational inflection in an unequal temperament), and the reason was probably to compensate for a difference in pitch standards between certain towns." [Leipzig and Dresden?]

6. While the shift from Eb to D trombae which are later used very extensively by Bach (see 3 above) might seem to indicate a change from a more problematical, inherited situation to a solution which Bach then prefers and continues to use (read this to mean improvement over the BWV 243a composition which may have been tied directly to circumstances in the St. Nicholas church for which Bach composed the Magnificat originally, an examination of the use of recorders in mvt. 9, the alto aria, “Esurientes” (BWV 243a) will point out a serious problem that Bach faces when transposing this mvt. from the key of F major, a most natural, almost perfect key for the recorders he would use, to E major which would make this piece ‘a real bear’ to play on a recorders. Bach now is forced to give up the very specific sound quality of recorders, a quality which is noted for numerous characteristics frequently mentioned in notes that accompany the Bach cantatas, in favor of the transverse flutes, thus changing considerably the original effect (pastoral, Christmas-like) that this piece might have had upon its listeners. While this transformation may have been intentional, causing the loss of a warm, intimate quality in favor of a more abstract sound (even with wooden transverse flutes), it does make me wonder about Bach’s intentions here. In the intervening decade between the 1st performance (BWV 243a) and Bach “Reinschrift” (an unusually clean autograph copy of the score) of BWV 243, the Eb trombae and the recorders seem to be fading out gradually in favor of their replacements.

7. Heighes, in the Oxford Composer Companions series referred to above, indicates that the 2 versions differ “in many small matters of detail and instrumentation.” This is putting an unfortunate ‘spin’ on the entire comparison between both versions. Dürr’s comprehensive and extensive examination of these differences almost a half century ago stands up extremely well to careful scrutiny even today. Almost everything that Wolff, McCreesh, Heighes, and others have to say about BWV 243 vs. BWV 243a is already mentioned and given in detail in the NBA KB. The only new idea that I have not found there is the speculation (possibly by Cammarota who did his doctoral disseration on this subject “The Repertoire of Magnificats in Leipzig at the Time of J. S. Bach: A Study of the Manuscript Sources” 1986) contained in Wolff’s Bach biography, “The Learned Musician” wherWolff points to some possible other dates for performances of BWV 243 c.1733 or thereabouts, but none of this information has been confirmed with actual evidence of any such performance actually having taken place. It appears significant to me that no record whatsoever exists that original parts for BWV 243 were ever prepared or used. It is quite likely that Bach never heard BWV 243 performed and that it was very likely prepared for presentation to the Dresden Court. Dürr points out that it is highly unusual for Bach to include designations such as “pizzicato” in the Bc. as he did in the “Esurientes” mvt. as these directives are usually found only in the parts in his other works where parts do exist.

8. All of the truly significant observations regarding the 2 versions can be attributed to Rust, Spitta, and Dürr. Dürr, in the NBA II/3 KB, states that the comparison of these versions allows us to have a significant view into the composer’s workshop as he attempts to overcome the limitations imposed upon him by making this transposition in key (Dürr notes such things as ‘Oktavbrechung’ - the breaking of musical lines in the original by suddenly jumping up or down an octave in order to accommodate the ranges of instruments or even the voice – all of this as a slight detriment to the power of the original conception.)

In regard to the questions raised by Charles regarding Bach’s reason for the transposition in key: the Dresden connection/possibility is quite strong. Trombae in D which were more prevalent in the 1730’s in Leipzig and Dresden would make the composition generally more usable. Possibly the court musicians in Dresden had only the trombae in D. The recorders were generally being replaced by transverse flutes which were gaining immensely in popularity (Think 'Quantz' here who is listed in Walther’s “Musicalisches Lexicon” as a member of the Royal Chapel and Chamber Music Group in Dresden, 1729.)

The remarkable realization that I experienced while checking out this information is that Bach may never have performed or heard the final version of BWV 243 being performed. Someone might say: “You have to prove this to be true.” To this I would answer: “Where is the proof/evidence that indicates without a doubt that it was performed on such and such a date in Leipzig or Dresden?” All we have are speculations without even a shred of evidence that the parts from which the Magnificat in D would have been played ever existed. Bach’s extremely clean copy of the final version is reminiscent of a few other similar efforts on his part to prepare music in the form of a presentation copy from which parts could easily be copied.

The question of temperament seems very remote here indeed. It seems to be more a question of practicality in performance (will the Dresden? musicians for whom this may have been intended be able to play and sing this composition properly without having to seek out old-fashioned trombae (and make all the necessary adjustments in learning to play them) or recorders and/or recorder players (Quantz certainly would have preferred playing the transverse flute.) Bach seems almost oblivious to the difference in sound between the “Esurientes” mvt. being performed in either the key of F or E major, and certainly Werckmeister and others would have noted differences in quality (key feelings and mood) here.

Finally, a vaguely related trivia item from a New Grove article by Edward H Tarr:

>>The first piccolo trumpet in G was made by F. Besson for a performance by Teste of Bach’s Magnificat in 1885. <<


Questions, additions, comments, and corrections to the above are welcome.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 4, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
<Questions, additions, comments, and corrections to the above are welcome. >
Fair enough; here are some of each. (Don't worry, folks, these are all points of substance. CONstructive criticism.)

- Overall your summary strikes me as a fairly decent fact-finding mission from reference books, although the connective tissue you've added to it has some problems. That is, you have a promising start in the materials you've collected, and now it's time to get down to business on the way you deal with them.

- There's a logical fallacy in at least one place in your reasoning (was Charles Francis, at his leisure, going to point it out or just let it slide?). That is: you've said that Heighes and the Csibas both know Smithers' article, but didn't give as detailed a summary of it as you'd like to see; and you therefore concluded, "I think we can assume that there were no new earth-shaking theories or thoughts that Smithers included in the article to which Heighes refers." That's not good scholarship, sir. A scholar doesn't assume there's nothing worthwhile in an article, from hearsay, and especially from the things not said about it by other writers. Instead, he goes and looks it up himself if he'd like to know what it really says. (I've seen such a tendency in your writing many times before, too: to draw imaginative conclusions and speculations from things you do not see, and then go on as if you've proven something. That's a fallacy to watch out for: a problem both with logic and responsible respect of the material.) "I think we can assume..." is a smoke-and-mirrors tactic; if you respect your readers' ability to think, you won't try to make any points with it. Don't insult or underestimate your readers' intelligence; they might be equipped to think outside your assumptions, and then your points fall flat!

- Here and at several other places in your posting, you complain that Simon Heighes has written an unsatisfactory article (by your expectations), and especially you decry the "unfortunate spin" he has put on the topic. Then you run to your trusty hero, Alfred Dürr, with your usual faith in the NBA. It's a valid observation that Heighes has written a less-detailed summary of the issues, but that's simply because of the intended audience: his article is in a general book for non-specialists, a layman's guide to Bach. What have you to gain here by bashing Heighes, on the grounds that he has written appropriately for his audience? Someone who really wants to dig into this issue will go read the NBA and other technical sources, anyway, not relying merely on a short entry in a dictionary. My point here is: I'd encourage you to have more respect for Heighes, where he's done the difficult writing task of boiling down complicated material for the consumption of non-specialists. Instead of complaining about published scholarly work, I suggest you could enroll in the training and learn what it takes to do some. As I was instructed in my first term of a musicology degree program, it is more difficult to write a clear general article for the masses than to compile a technical list of facts. That is, Heighes' assignment here was more difficult than Dürr's. He had to give just enough that casual readers would be well-informed and satisfied, while also whetting the technical reader's appetite to go find more, in Smithers et al. And I'd advise you to have more respect for musicologists in general, beyond your hero Dürr.

- On a point of detail, the "Esurientes": between the two versions of the piece, has there been any evidence of the Octavbrechung Dürr mentioned, or is that only in some of the other movements? I'm asking because it seems to me Bach has solved his problem here more elegantly than that. Namely, treble recorders cannot play below F, but he has transposed the piece to E...so he has simply substituted a different instrument (flutes) that can play that lowest tonic note.

- E major for the "Esurientes" is, as you correctly point out, a very difficult key ("a real bear") on recorders; but it's hardly less difficult on Baroque flutes. On either instrument the player has many more tricky fingerfor E major than for F. Then, you guess that there has been "the loss of a warm, intimate quality in favor of a more abstract sound (even with wooden transverse flutes)" -- a guess that does not stand up. If you've heard Baroque flutes in person, i.e. unmiked, you'd know that they are not louder or less intimate than recorders. They are, if anything, even more gentle with a less-piercing sound.

- Is there any chance that Bach transposed this "Esurientes" to a more difficult key for a theological reason? That is, the movement is about the rich being sent away empty; and perhaps in the difficulty of playing the piece he was illustrating something such as the difficulty of rich people getting into heaven, according to Jesus. Similarly, is there any chance that any of the Magnificat was cast in specific keys--either time--to illustrate theological points? For difficulty, or effect, or intonation of the organ's temperament, or intonation in the wind instruments' temperaments, etc.? Are such lines of reasoning even worth thinking about, in the way Bach expressively used instruments' capabilities, and sometimes thwarted expectations? (I believe they are, personally.)

- Your conjecture that the D-major version was never performed in Bach's lifetime is a tantalizing one. I'd like to see you flesh that out some more, beyond bringing up guesses.

- Is there any chance that the E-flat version might have been intended for cornetti (Zink) instead of brass instruments? I'm asking, honestly; I don't know one way or the other, but it wouldn't surprise me.

- You assert that "The question of temperament seems very remote here indeed. It seems to be more a question of practicality in performance (...)." But, those points are closely inter-related. First of all, consider the E-flat version. If Bach were to perform it at some venue where the organ was in Chorton instead of Cammerton, the organist would have to have a part transposed to D-flat major (i.e. reading a whole step lower than the ensemble, as his instrument plays at a pitch a whole step higher). That is an impossible key for meantone-based keyboards. But, D major would work just fine as the organist would then be reading in C major. Is it not possible that the transposition for the revision had something to do with the keyboard instruments, not only the trombae? Again, I'm not saying that I know that one way or the other, but I'd encourage you to consider that possibility. This Chorton/Cammerton issue is a valid question of Charles' that you could address more fully. Instead, you skimmed over it: you first cited those tantalizing bits from Cooke's article, being on the right track, but then you negated it all by asserting yourself that "The question of temperament seems very remote here indeed." (That is: instead of addressing the musical and practical issues directly, you've sidestepped into looking up minutiae about documented performance situations, didn't find what you hoped, and then dismissed the whole thing as "remote indeed.") (That is: it's not a valid scholarly method to dismiss something as "remote indeed" just to cover up an unwillingness or inability to deal with it....)

- Also, why couldn't Bach transpose the whole work for an even simpler practical reason: to make a different musical effect, for variety? D major is brighter and more "festive" than E-flat is, in character. And the keys of the other movements similarly shift around, in various directions of character. Why not do this simply for the novelty of it? Was Bach merely a victim of circumstances, or might he really have had a creative motivation in some of his choices of keys?

- You assert that nobody has done anything of substance regarding this piece of music, since the work of Rust, Spitta, and Dürr. That's presumptuous. And it merely says--between the lines--that you don't know of any that you're willing to acknowledge. I'd encourage you to (1) look at more articles about the Magnificat (start by looking in Tomita's database), and (2) develop a healthier respect for current expert opinion. It's not a valid scholarly method to assert that nothing good exists, and that all current experts are idiots; but I've seen you use it here, and numerous times elsewhere. I'd encourage you to "get over" that attitude that you (on a couple days of research) know more than the experts do. That's the #1 criticism I have of your writing, both here and elsewhere: your disrespect for the serious work of others.

- Overall, I'd encourage you to put more energy into musical analysis, practical points from a composer/performer's point of view, instead of compiling historical tidbits around the music. Sure, the tidbits are interesting as well, but they only make relevant sense if you can illustrate something specifically in the piece showing Bach's process of reworking. Perhaps you could give us more detail about the Octavbrechung from Dürr's notes. Your mode of speculation, both here and in many of your past postings, convinces me that you're more comfortable with minutiae around the musical circumstances (i.e. rehashing the positivistic stuff you can find in your reference books) than with analyzing the piece directly. That's just an observation; I'd encourage you to deal more directly with the music. If you're going to bring up issues of Cammerton/Chorton, and the way the various keys behave in unequal temperaments on the organs Bach knew, why not flesh that out some more instead of breezing around it and asserting that it's not important? Such musical issues are exactly the ones that a composer needs to think about when doing such a transposition: is the piece going to work better or worse in a new key, and how, and why? And it's the job of a scholar to show us why it's important, and to address all the relevant evidence instead of dismissing things he'd rather not deal with. (Contrary to the opinions of some, this field is an empirical science.)

=====

On the whole, these points I've written are the type of constructive and challenging comments a responsible graduate professor of musicology would give, marking the first draft of a student's research project. Questions of substance, and encouragement to go further in directions that look promising, and encouragement to hone the
scholarly instincts instead of guessing. Such a process is, I trust, much more valuable than one-line sniping.

Now, again, I must get back to my professional projects that bring in money, and my family responsibilities, and go practice my instruments...instead of spending all this time in online conversation.

Thomas Braatz wropte (November 5, 2003):
Brad Lehman stated:
>>these points I've written are the type of constructive and challenging comments a responsible graduate professor of musicology would give, marking the first draft of a student's research project<<
Brad, I do appreciate the time and effort you have taken to respond to some of my points, but why do I get the feeling that I am being treated in a condescending, patronizing manner? It was a ‘first draft’ to be sure since I probably did not put more than 2 hours in researching and writing these comments, but why is it necessary for you to assume such a tone? You are expecting a doctoral dissertation from me and all that you get is an undergrad paper of the quality that your wife abhors? Let’s get serious here, Brad. I suppose you think that, when I point out flaws, omissions, etc. in the articles that I refer to for guidance, I deliberately disrespect any musical authority who might be considered your peer. Yet, you certainly exhibit a double standard when you state: >>Heighes' assignment here was more difficult than Düerr's.<<

and then proceed to defend Heighes’ and others scholar to your liking.

On the one hand, Brad, you make statements like: >>Don't insult or underestimate your readers' intelligence; they might be equipped to think outside your assumptions<<

but then you turn around to advocate the ‘dumbing down’ of important information (Smithers’ contribution referred to obliquely in Heighes’ article and which I found subsequently listed more clearly as: “Anomalie of Tonart and Stiin the first version of Bach's Magnificat (BWV 243a),” BACH, The Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute, XXVII, 1-59, 1996) for the “Oxford Composer Companions: J. S Bach” which you call >>a general book for non-specialists, a layman's guide to Bach.<< My question is: “Just where should an interested connoisseur of Bach’s music turn for reliable information (on the Magnificat in its 2 incarnations, for instance) if not to this book which claims to be reasonably current and based upon the scholarship of ‘leading’ experts in the field of Bach’s life and music?” Why do you characterize all these readers, some of whom read the postings on these Bach sites, as not really being interested in when and why Bach completed these 2 versions of the Magnificat?

Brad also stated:
>>That's the #1 criticism I have of your writing, both here and elsewhere: your disrespect for the serious work of others.<<
>> As I was instructed in my first term of a musicology degree program, it is more difficult to write a clear general article for the masses than to compile a technical list of facts. That is, Heighes' assignment here was more difficult than Dürr's.<<
Brad, it is truly amazing what you have made yourself believe here: [translating you thought here] Dürr merely compiles a technical list of facts, while Heighes' more difficult assignment was to condense and provide an abstract of all that is currently available! Come on now, Brad, you can’t be actually serious about this either. You have not really consulted Dürr’s work in the NBA II/3 KB and have already prejudged it by characterizing my reference to his work as not being equal to Heighes or any other Bach experts you claim as your true peers. With university/college professors such as you guiding aspiring experts in the field of Bach, what will we come to? What kind of example/model are you setting for young musical scholars? Should they >>develop a healthier respect for current expert opinion<< such as emanating from Bach experts such as you and belittle/disrespect the efforts of the past giants in this field? Would you have them believe that speculations (such as those concerning Bach’s own performances BWV 243) can only be made by current or more recent doctoral degree aspirants and their Doktorväter who have guided them in the ‘art of speculation?’ This ‘ivory-tower’ mentality leads to the type of excesses that you exhibit, a kind of control of information instead of allowing individuals to come to their own conclusions, whether or not they have partaken of the musical training which you very frequently extol and parade before our eyes. This ‘ivory-tower’ mentality does not lead toward a friendly exchange of information, particularly on a list such as this. To be sure, errors should be politely pointed out, but indicating specifically where the problems in information or perception lie means quoting from sources (which you, Brad, have done over and over again – for this I will be ever grateful.) The interpretation of these sources should be open to reasonable discussion even by non-experts, just as differing opinions on what sounds good or not in the recordings of Bach’s works should be tolerated.

Another question for you, Brad:

How can I >>develop a healthier respect for current expert opinion<< [your words] when I frequently see evidence of careless scholarship as I begin to investigate specific topics relating to Bach? As a member at the top of your academic/musical community, would you not (I realize, as most readers of this list, that you have numerous responsibilities that place great pressure upon you) use your contacts to have a university interlibrary-loan provide information (such as the Smithers’ article in question) or ask a colleague or aspiring student to look up the reference listed above? This would serve a valid purpose in clarifying just what Heighes meant when he avoided giving the “possible reasons for Bach’s choice of key.” I do not have access to the article referred to; certainly it would not be asking too much, if you consider that Smithers had something important to say about this matter and that others reading this would also like to know. As you correctly stated: >>he [a good scholar] goes and looks it up himself if he'd like to know what it really says.<< Are you still a good scholar? Certainly being a good scholar should be a lifelong ambition and not stop when burning questions on a topic such as this become important.

Your argument about Heighes writing only for a lay audience, reminds me of another situation with a book by Eric Chafe, whose work I respect very much (even if I do not always understand his points.) The book, “Tonal Allegory in the Vocal Music of J. S Bach” University of California Press, 1991, contains an explanation of “Bassetchen” in a footnote on p. 350. This book (I believe it cost $90. and it was definitely not written for a layman audience) has wide margins with ample space everywhere, but Chafe states: “Bach’s oeuvre contains several such arias [with “Bassetchen”]: e.g. BWV 11/10, 46/5, 234/3, etc.” Now which Bach expert/professor/scholar would not want the full list which includes only a few more examples and not have to search through the entire NBA to find them? >>He [Heighes] had to give just enough that casual readers would be well-informed and satisfied, while also whetting the technical reader's appetite to go find more, in Smithers et al.<< Is this what is also happening here with Eric Chafe as well? Is this a deliberate two-prong approach, or is this a case of ‘ivory-tower’ sophistication or even of sheer laziness on the part of a recognized American Bach scholar?

Now to some of the pertinent points of interest that truly relate to the BWV 243a vs. BWV 243 situation that is being investigated here:

Brad stated:
>>you've said that Heighes and the Csibas both know Smithers' article, but didn't give as detailed a summary of it as you'd like to see; and you therefore concluded, "I think we can assume that there were no new earth-shaking theories or thoughts that Smithers included in the article to which Heighes refers." That's not good scholarship, sir. A scholar doesn't assume there's nothing worthwhile in an article, from hearsay, and especially from the things not said about it by other writers.<<
You are misreading my comment. I did not “assume there’s nothing worthwhile” in the article by Smithers, only that Heighes did not consider it necessary to characterize his efforts as being anything more than the statement that “possible reasons for Bach’s choice of key have been thoroughly examined by Don Smithers.” I still seriously question Heighes’ reasons for not mentioning/summarizing these possible reasons. Perhaps Heighes was relying on some extremely succinct summary and did not have the time or energy to look up the entire article. Is it due to an inability to project information to an audience that contains all levels of understanding? Bach certainly would not have used a ‘mono-prong’ approach toward his audience, thus insulting the intelligence of some of his listeners. Remember that some of them were university professors such as you, Brad. On the contrary, he did just the opposite. This has already been discussed on the Bach-Cantata site. Sometimes I get the feeling that you, as a performer/director assume that your audiences need to hear numerous, exaggerated distortions of Bach’s music in order to be able to truly enjoy it (to ‘groove with it.’) Have you ever considered that this might be underestimating the capabilities of enjoyment possessed by some members of your audience? Do you wish primarily to appeal only to those on the fringe of understanding his music (hearing Bach for the first time?)

Brad asked:
>> On a point of detail, the "Esurientes": between the two versions of the piece, has there been any evidence of the Octavbrechung Dürr mentioned, or is that only in some of the other movements?<<
Brad, I am afraid that you are guilty of conflation here. I will repeat my point number 8. There is no mention here of the “Esurientes” mvt.: Check it out!

“8. All of the truly significant observationsregarding the 2 versions can be attributed to Rust, Spitta, and Dürr. Dürr, in the NBA II/3 KB, states that the comparison of these versions allows us to have a significant view into the composer’s workshop as he attempts to overcome the limitations imposed upon him by making this transposition in key (Dürr notes such things as ‘Oktavbrechung’ - the breaking of musical lines in the original by suddenly jumping up or down an octave in order to accommodate the ranges of instruments or even the voice – all of this as a slight detriment to the power of the original conception.)”

Brad’s next point: >>- E major for the "Esurientes" is, as you correctly point out, a very difficult key ("a real bear") on recorders; but it's hardly less difficult on Baroque flutes. On either instrument the player has many more tricky fingerings for E major than for F. Then, you guess that there has been "the loss of a warm, intimate quality in favor of a more abstract sound (even with wooden transverse flutes)" -- a guess that does not stand up. If you've heard Baroque flutes in person, i.e. unmiked, you'd know that they are not louder or less intimate than recorders. They are, if anything, even more gentle with a less-piercing sound.<<
Perhaps I chose “abstract sound” because most of the recordings of BWV 243 that I have heard use modern Böhm flutes. I do, however, perceive the wooden transverse flutes as having a generally less interesting sound than the characteristic sound of recorders. Did I say that the wooden transverse flutes were louder? Read my item 6 again. You will find that I did not say ‘louder.’ I hope that you read your students’ papers with more care than you are exhibiting here.

Brad further stated:
>>- Is there any chance that Bach transposed this "Esurientes" to a more difficult key for a theological reason? That is, the movement is about the rich being sent away empty.<<
I do not see how this would make very much sense “about the rich being sent away empty” as this is already accounted for in both versions by Bach’s deliberate omission of the final note for both flutes. Eric Chafe might however explain E major theologically as the most extreme key in the sharp direction which Bach employed in his sacred vocal music scores.

A very constructive comment by Brad: >>- Your conjecture that the D-major version was never performed in Bach's lifetime is a tantalizing one. I'd like to see you flesh that out some more, beyond bringing up guesses.<<
Reasonable guesses is what this is all about. Given the information at hand, anyone should be able to come up with such a reasonable conjecture. The lack of any evidence whatsoever that the original parts of BWV 243 ever existed (in many instances we know that original parts of his cantatas, etc. existed at one time but then were later lost) is the springboard for this supposition.

Brad asked:
>>- Is there any chance that the E-flat version might have been intended for cornetti (Zink) instead of brass instruments? I'm asking, honestly; I don't know one Is it not possible that the transposition for the revision had something to do with the keyboard instruments, not only the trombae? way or the other, but it wouldn't surprise me.<<
I think that the Csibas would have reported such a possibility in their book if there were one.

Brad asked:
>>Is it not possible that the transposition for the revision had something to do with the keyboard instruments, not only the trombae?<<
Yes, this is a possibility that would have been answered if we had had access to the original parts which would have included the obligatory 3 continuo parts. They do not, however, exist, and perhaps they never existed except for the BWV 243a version where it is reasonable to assume so.

Brad also asked:
>> And the keys of the other movements similarly shift around, in various directions of character. Why not do this simply for the novelty of it? Was Bach merely a victim of circumstances, or might he really have had a creative motivation in some of his choices of keys?<<
I simply can not imagine Bach, faced with the transposition of such glorious church music, doing something like this “for the novelty of it.” There must have been many ramifications that he considered when he decided to transpose this composition.

Brad stated vociferously:
>>- You assert that nobody has done anything of substance regarding this piece of music, since the work of Rust, Spitta, and Duerr. That's presumptuous.<<
That’s right, Brad. I presume that if you did your homework in checking out the material concerning Bach’s Magnificat, you would come to a similar conclusion. This might then imply that my ‘presumption’ is true after all. It’s your job now to prove me wrong, Brad. I look forward to your prompt reply. Why not ask some of your fellow Bach experts, Brad? Certainly they might be interested in supporting you in this endeavor.

Brad attempts to put words in my mouth (he is good at doing this):
>> It's not a valid scholarly method to assert that nothing good exists, and that all current experts are idiots.”
Brad, you are confusing valid criticism of interpretation of the sources with name-calling. You know fully well that I have never used the word ‘idiots’ which comes only from your wild imagination and unfortunately creeps into your comments (not mine) from time to time.

Brad stated:
>>If you're going to bring up issues of Cammerton/Chorton, and the way the various keys behave in unequal temperaments on the organs Bach knew, why not flesh that out some more instead of breezing around it and asserting that it's not important?<<
I was hoping that you, as the expert in these matters, could explain how Bach could transpose an entire composition with its various mvts. in various keys to a key a semi-tone lower and not be thinking almost entirely of equal temperament (with no attempt at creating any key coloring except haphazardly.) Bach no longer seems to be thinking mean-tone or any variation thereof. Hasn’t he moved here almost entirely into the realm of equal temperament sensing and feeling?

Brad kindly directed me:
>>- Overall, I'd encourage you to put more energy into musical analysis, practical points from a composer/performer's point of view, instead of compiling historical tidbits around the music. Sure, the tidbits are interesting as well, but they only make relevant sense if you can illustrate something specifically in the piece showing Bach's process of reworking. Perhaps you could give us more detail about the Octavbrechung from Dürr's notes.<<
I was only waiting for someone to ask. This means translating some major portions from the NBA KB in which Dürr gives the necessary details that some people might find interesting and useful, particularly since Aryeh Oron has scheduled the Magnificat for discussion on the Bach-Cantata list after the remaining cantatas have been covered. I hope that I will be able to find time to supply this information with some pertinent examples from both scores (BWV 243a and BWV 243).

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 5, 2003):
Thomas Braatz (after complaining about my patronizing tone) wrote:
(...) I was hoping that you, as the expert in these matters, could explain how Bach could transpose an entire composition with its various mvts. in various keys to a key a semi-tone lower and not be thinking almost entirely of equal temperament (with no attempt at creating any key coloring except haphazardly.) Bach no longer seems to be thinking mean-tone or any variation thereof. Hasn’t he moved here almost entirely into the realm of equal temperament sensing and feeling? <<
----------------

That's what Charles Francis invited you to explain, Tom. And the Cammerton/Chorton organ transposition problem (by a whole step) further complicates the mix. That's what Charles invited you to
address.

But since you've requested my help, relatively politely (yes, I noted your other objections), and because I do have substantial evidence, I'll comment. It's not only about the Cammerton/Chorton question.

Whether Bach was "thinking almost entirely of equal temperament" as you suggest is, frankly, moot. Even if he did (just for tsake of argument), all the wind instruments at his disposal (including the organ) did not play in equal temperament. They weren't built to do so.

Did Bach deal with that phenomenon cleverly/creatively/positively/theologically/whatever, in his deployment of keys? Or was he merely a helpless victim of his circumstances, swearing under his breath as he was (supposedly) forced to compromise his work by transposing it? And was his selection of keys in a multi-movement work truly arbitrary (as it might be in an equal-tempered world), or could he have had demonstrable expressive purposes there?

=====

First, an introductory question to focus on temperament.

Why are E major, F# minor, E-flat major, and F minor the most extreme keys (sharpwise and flatwise, respectively) in almost all of Bach's works, unless he was positively respecting the meantone-based winds and keyboards? Did Bach use those practical "limitations" to musically expressive advantage?

E major and F minor are "extreme" not because Eric Chafe says so, or I say so, or anyone else says so, but because of the way the wind instruments and keyboards were tempered. Because of acoustical and mechanical facts in the instruments' design, those extreme keys are difficult to listen to, and difficult to play in. And on the other side of that same fence, the simple keys are especially consonant; that's the basic reason behind the design.

This is not esoteric knowledge. I dare say: everybody who plays on meantone keyboards regularly knows these things directly, from experience; and so do specialists in Baroque winds (such as Bruce Haynes, whom you've cited elsewhere). That is: since Bach was not deaf and since he played on meantone organs regularly, from his youth, he must have known the behavior of the set of available keys.

So, let's explore that.

As we discussed in the spring on BachCantatas, Cantata BWV 116 has some crunchy bits due directly to the extreme sharp keys. As I demonstrated in the analysis I presented: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV116-D.htm
Bach's use of the wolf intervals and the double-sharps suggests he was very well aware of such issues of raunchy tuning, and used them there to illustrate the theological text.

Now, is he doing the same thing here, in either version of the Magnificat? What is lost or improved by transposition, in character and playability? Some trade-offs all round, perhaps?

With regard to the Magnificat, you (and I) have a handy checklist of all the movements' keys right there in Simon Heighes' article, p280 in the Oxford Composer Companion. Plus we both have access to scores.

In the two versions of the Magnificat, the roster of the keys, you can see that Bach plays against those key extremes in both directions. His key signatures go all the way to maximum flats and maximum sharps, between the two versions.

And the D major version would work fine in a Cammerton/Chorton situation, while the E-flat version would not. Play through everything a whole step down, on a meantone keyboard, and you'll see immediately what fits meantone and what does not. The E-flat version falls apart; the D version does not. But the question doesn't reduce entirely to a Cammerton/Chorton one, anyway, since we're also dealing with oboes and flutes and recorders scaled to favor the traditional meantone notes. So, for the remainder of this posting, I'll set the organ transposition issue aside and focus on the rest of the orchestra, i.e. the main texture.

=====

Here are some specific musical examples.

OMNES GENERATIONES
As pointed out in Heighes' article, in "Omnes generationes" the climactic dominant 9th chord is sustained in the E-flat version but quickly resolved in the D version. What is the effect, continuing beyond that observation? In the E-flat version that movement is in G minor, and that dominant-9th chord is therefore D-F#-A-C-Eb...all very nicely in tune. In the D version, the movement is in F# minor and that chord is C#-E#-G#-B-D: a howler because the note E# isn't in the temperament. That is: in the D version that cadential moment is an EXTREME dissonance, where in the E-flat it was only a mild one. And what did Bach do? He softened it by recomposing some of the detail there! (If we may make an educated guess at Bach's motivation there: he probably felt that the "omnes generationes" movement was not the appropriate place for such a wild and dramatic slap in the listener's face, so he toned it down.)

[Someone may ask, rightly, "then why don't we hear this extreme dissonance on the downbeat even in period-instrument recordings?" Because, for modern audiences, even the period-instrument ensembles smooth things down to a well-temperament on their keyboards instead of the strict and modified meantone variants. In well temperaments, the chord C#-F-G#-B-D remains a little brighter than D-F#-A-C-Eb, but the basic shock value of meantone is dissipated. Most modern listeners--I reckon--don't expect or accept their Bach to be raunchy in any way; and so, his crunchy moments are reduced to pabulum, for everyone's comfort...and perhaps also for wider sales!]

But on that point of the 9th chords, don't take my word for it. Be empirical. Go to a meantone-tempered keyboard and play those 9th chords. You'll hear immediately the difference in quality, the degree of dissonance.

ET MISERICORDIA
While you're at that keyboard, play through the parts for the recorders and bc for the "Et misericordia," in F minor; and then the equivalent parts for flute and bc in E minor from the transposed version. Then, compare that difference of effect with the meaning of the text. F minor is such an expressively "fearful" key of lamentation and struggle, to listen to, because of the qualities of its intervals (in meantone, which favors G# and C# instead of A-flat and D-flat). E minor is, by comparison, only a mild wistful smile. The D# (really tuned as E-flat) is an especially high leading-tone, but everything else is very consonant.

FECIT POTENTIAM
By the same token, the transposition of "Fecit potentiam" could be called an improvement of dramatic effect, at its climactic moment anyway on the last page. "Dispersit superbos" ("He has scattered the proud") lurches us from an already tense environment (having modulated into A major) into a suddenly extremely dissonant one, a diminished 7th on E# (vii-o7 of F# MAJOR!). And from that 'off the map' region of F# major he winds it back down to the consonant D major. By comparison: in the E-flat original, we've been in C, F, and B-flat major (in that area of the movement...all very consonant keys) and that moment "superbos" lands us on a chord that is surprising but not especially dissonant: the F# diminished 7th coming into G major (and then the rest of the movement gets us back to E-flat).

Play through those progressions from there to the end of the movement, in both versions, in meantone. It's wild both ways, but in the E-flat original Bach has stayed within the temperament's normal properties. The only especially tense spot is on the first word "cordis," in a suspension; and it's especially tense because in the bass a G# is standing in for the notated A-flat. In the D-version, the effect of the passage is completely different; the "cordis" suspension is (relatively) more consonant than the F#-major stuff around it, and the main shock happened a bar earlier.

If I may suggest a theological interpretation: in both versions Bach was illustrating the proud being scattered, with sudden harmonic strokes; but it's a lot more intensely so in the D-version, because the unexpected key he gets us to is even more a slap in the face (due to the tuning...E# and A# are not in the temperament). The D-version is more effective, as in making the more startling (and more intense) dramatic effect there.

To clarify that: musically intelligent listeners expect suspensions to be the most dissonant thing in the vicinity (that's what suspensions DO, normally), and that's indeed what Bach gave us in the E-flat version there. The D version wakes us up even more by slappingus with especially out-of-tune chords at surprising places, and suspensions that relieve tension rather than increasing it! (It's like a photo-negative of a scene: it certainly commands more attention than one with normal colors.)

Again, this all becomes obvious enough by simply playing it. It's more difficult to explain in words than simply listening to it, empirically, in meantone. (Yes, I also gave the F minor recorder parts of "Et misericordia" a go, on recorder, to experience the cross-fingerings required. I'm not merely a keyboard junkie.)

=====

Tom, if your claim is that Bach (a professional keyboardist) was unaware of this temperament stuff, or considered it only a nuisance of circumstances, you'll have to demonstrate that. Especially, if you assert "Bach no longer seems to be thinking mean-tone or any variation thereof," as you have done, let's see your evidence.

And preferably, it should be musical evidence akin to the type I have presented above. You'll have to demonstrate, somehow, that none of the observations I've made are significant; that Bach and his listeners and his orchestra were all oblivious to such things. (It also doesn't do to observe that most listeners NOW are oblivious to this; you'll have to show that in Bach's milieu nobody knew or cared.)

Meanwhile, I suspect that Bach (for the most part) delighted in it, with such a vast expressive range of color available to him owing to the way the instruments were tuned. The instruments were that way, for better or worse, and he had to deal with it on a practical level.

(As do we all, who devote ourselves to this music.) Did he try to stuff it all under a rug, or did he take advantage of the advantages?

Vivid color is inherently more interesting than black-and-white, is it not?

=====

An aside, to Kirk: these issues of intonation, tuning, and transposition are not "intellectual nits" or "masturbation". They directly affect the performance of the music, and the effect that the music gives. Perhaps some of the other recent issues were nits, but this one definitely is not.


Brad Lehman (again wasting much more time than I planned to, by writing something wayyyy tooooo lonnnng and techhhhniiicccaaaalll... there goes another lunch-hour I should have spent relaxing.)

Santu de Silva wrote (November 6, 2003):
I was intrigued by Brad's post about the D-major/EFlat major characteristics of the Magnificat.

The Magnificat has been a blind spot of mine for nearly a decade. This might be the impetus I need to try and get interested in the thing
again.

Here's a question: is there any version of this work in meantone, or any such non-equal-temperament? As Brad says, many ensembles temper their playing to suit the ears of modern audiences. Is there no exception to this? I guess it's only in D major that the interesting dissonnances arise--can Brad verify this?

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 7, 2003):
[To Santu de Silva] Thanks Arch! Glad to see someone has seen some value in my remarks about it....

From my play-through of it, I'm quite sure that the D major version has many more "crunchy bits" due to the temperament than the E-flat version does. As I pointed out, in the "Fecit potentiam" in the E-flat version he gets as far around the sharp side as G major, briefly; it's a shock but not out of bounds. And, he respects the normal end of the line flatward.

Then when the whole piece is shifted down from E-flat to D, it essentially adds five sharps everywhere. (Cancels three flats and adds two sharps.) That is, in the E-flat version in all the places where he had got to C major or any farther toward the sharps, he's now off the edge of the map. And there be dragons and wolves. (As, for example, when the "Esurientes" now in E major gets to its dominant; and "Deposuit" is nasty all the way through, which incidentally seems rather appropriate for its text.)

That is, the whole Magnificat is (overall, on average) less "comfortable" in D than it was in E-flat. Like somebody slipping extra spice into one's food.

As for recordings of either version with a meantone or modified-meantone flavor, I don't know of any. (That's not intended as proof that there aren't any!) I'd like to hear one. 1/5 or 1/6 comma meantone would work beautifully. 1/4 comma would probably be too hot in the D version, even for those of us who like such intensity.

=====

I've been playing through the Inventions and Sinfonias recently, in a modified meantone(*), and they work marvelously that way. Is there any spot elsewhere in Bach's music that is more startling than the bass leap in bar 29-30 of the E-major sinfonia? I mean, that one rivals the wildest stuff in the toccatas, and it even gives "Barabbam!" a run for the money.

(*) 1/4 comma naturals for the hexachord GABCDE; F pure to C, and then take the sharps and flats around as pure fifths from B and F. This one is an early 17th century Italian temperament(**). It can also be heard in Francesco Cera's recording of Bernardo Storace's "Selva."

(**) Nor should any of our resident jerks assume that I'm using an "Italian" temperament just to be weird, or irrelevant. It's almost identical to some French temperaments. And there's no monopoly on its nationality, either; it's the type of very easy temperament that any meantone player could come up with as a practical favorite (yes, perhaps even some Germans in Bach's circles, or Bach himself... although I haven't yet found such direct Germanic documentation of it). It also works fine for John Bull's notorious "Ut re mi fa sol la".

I believe that such a temperament method is a style that--as the saying goes-- "everybody did but few wrote about" (as in, theorists in print) because it was so common...oral tradition through the 17th century and beyond.

Instead of carefully counting beats to fractions of a second (the 20th century method of setting these historical temperaments...until electronic devices made even that scientific process out-of-date), everybody except the strictest theorists just tuned by ear according to their taste and experience. What's the typical "tasteful" way to make a strictly regular meantone temperament a bit more useful? To do exactly this: fudge the sharps a little higher and the flats a little lower, while keeping the naturals where they are. And to make that process of fudging even easier, just run them up as pure fifths from each other, exactly like this. And there it is, voila. All to taste, and 100% practical.

Would this appeal to a practical musician, such as Bach? I suspect so: the musical ear has some leeway to adjust things until they sound good, just turn the pin a little and check how it sounds in the music you're working on. I suspect (especially from going through the works of Bach's first ~40 years) this sort of thing is what he grew up with as "ordinary" temperament on home keyboards! Meantone-based naturals, and the sharps and flats wandering around a bit, to taste, drifting toward one another.

Then if one keeps fudging so it also affects the naturals, it turns into the circulating (i.e. irregular) "well temperaments" of the late 17th and early 18th century theorists. Voila. No huge change in practice, just writing down the fudging that had already been going on, and calculating the mathematics of it all.

That's on harpsichords and clavichords, since they're easily tuneable in just a few minutes by these methods. On ORGANS it would take longer for such modifications to come in, as one has to start lengthening some pipes and cutting others to do these temperament conversions: expense. And on organs, there's more reason to stay closer to the regular meantones anyway, because of the way tierce ranks do their job. The whole organ is more sonorous if all those major thirds stay pure or nearly pure. That starts to get lost when we get into the well temperaments and on toward equal temperament. (Nor are my observations about organs any mere theory; some of those European organs in original condition are still in meantone and its variants.)

All very practical.

=====

So, what better way to "walk in Bach's compositional shoes" than to set up an organ temperament he wasfamiliar with, and play through his music (not just organ music, but vocal music)? What do the results suggest, and how might it have affected the composition? That's the point of this Magnificat exercise.

I hesitate to bring up any of this, though, because now I'll get jumped on by people who would never believe any "oral tradition", and who would rather dispute arcane Germanic minutiae (as if nothing valid ever existed unless it was documented carefully by Germans) than think practically about 16th-18th century music. Heaven forbid that a good musician (even one with a doctorate) should come up with any practical "working man's" theories by intuition plus experience with the theoretical material, and by SIMPLY PLAYING THROUGH THE MUSIC under the conditions Bach would have considered normal!

[Given that the resident anti-scholarly patronizing jerks already consider I'm a lousy scholar, not that they would recognize or respect a GOOD scholar anyway...I no longer have any scholarly credibility to lose by saying what I really think on this temperament issue! I don't see that there is any way I can disust them any further than I have already done, so hey. Nifty how that has worked out. Even we with doctorates still do have the human quality of intuition; and I'm not afraid to use mine.]

And it doesn't really contradict positivistic science, either; it just brings up things that the theoretical side is less prone to talk about, or to publish. Nor does it contradict Kirnberger's report about the way his teacher Bach taught him to tune.

Brad Lehman (thinker, performer, tuner, composer, pragmatist, scholar... pretty much in that order)

 

Continue on Part 5

Magnificats BWV 243 & BWV 243a: Details
Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | BWV 243a | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Systematic Discussions: BWV 243 | BWV 243a
Individual Recordings:
BWV 243 - E. Haïm | BWV 243 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 243a - T. Hengelbrock | BWV 243 - P. McCreesh | BWV 243 - J. Rifkin | BWV 243 - H. Rilling | BWV 243 - R. Shaw | BWV 243 - M. Suzuki | BWV 243a - P. Herreweghe

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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Last update: ýMarch 23, 2009 ý05:31:07