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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

Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248

General Discussions - Part 5

Continue from Part 4

Weihnachts-Oratorium revisited

Jack Botelho wrote (January 31, 2004):
"The musical treatment of the chorale stanzas [the chorales] exhibits an astonishing variety ... to the musical artistry of the chorale harmonizations ('Bach Chorale' or 'Cantionalsatz'). By 1734 Bach had been refining this last type of chorale treatment for over 20 years, and the nine four-part chorales in the Christmas Oratorio, in their interplay between a groundplan of the utmost simplicity and the greatest complexity in harmony and part-writing, must be regarded as the most fully-developed examples of their form in Bach's entire oeuvre."

- Werner Breig
notes from Archiv 423 232-1/2/4 recording

Probably what attracted me most at first to the Christmas Oratorio was the variety of musical forms - recitative, accompanied recitative, arias, and the chorales present in this work. With regard to the "Bach Chorale" treatments mentioned above, for the beginner this form, most fully developed in the Christmas Oratorio, is perhaps the most impressive grand contrapuntal treatments by Bach. I wonder how the OVPP/OPPP recordings deliver these pieces. I know the Gardiner recording (1987) is very impressive. Any thoughts anyone?

On the topic of 1950s recordings of the Passions, MBM, and XO, long ago I was chastised by someone on other list for expressing an appreciation for the old recording of the St Matthew Passion. I even traded this edition in (unfortunately)! I vow never again to take the opinion of hip snobs too seriously, and appreciate the concept of "the history of recorded music".

Jack Botelho wrote (February 1, 2004):
Above should read "an old recording of the St Matthew Passion". Unfortunately I cannot recall the conductor, but it was an old DG release. Can anyone help by naming some famous German conductors?

Philip Peters wrote (February 1, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] Chances are that you mean Karl Richter who recorded the SMP twice.Other possibilities (I omit people like Klemperer, Furtwaengler and Walter,hm...I have mentioned them now though, haven't I? ;-):
Grossmann
Mauersberger
Rilling
Ramin
Münchinger
Werner
Lehmann
Göttsche

John Pike wrote (February 1, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] The Gardiner is indeed wonderful. The choruses in the XMO are surely among Bach's finest in this genre.

John Pike wrote (February 1, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] I have Richter's recording on Archiv LPs from 1979. I haven't listened to it for years. Any thoughts on it?

Peter Bright wrote (February 1, 2004):
[[To Jack Botelho] I thought this particular recording was from the mid 1960s... If this is the one you mean, I think it's fabulous. The opening movement is, to my mind, the best on record (incidentally chosen by S. Richter (no relation!) as one of his favourite of all pieces of music).

Overall I still rate the Suzuki as the finest interpretation.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 2, 2004):
[To Philip Peters] Yes, the recording in question must have been directed by Richter. He was quite young at the time - perhaps even in his late thirties? (first rendition from the 1950s). A famous recording now. Thanks Philip.

PS Don, thanks for not taking offence to my somewhat acerbic reply regarding modern strings. Sometimes the fingers/temper slips a bit on the keyboard (music matters).

Jack Botelho wrote (February 2, 2004):
[To John Pike] Yes indeed. I have finally found the time to really give this recording a intense listen. The concentration of musical material here is incredible. Bach may have been at his peak at this time (late 40's in age) and it is interesting to note the Christmas Oratorio followed on the heels of the Passion masterworks. The choruses are outstanding, and stand up to heavy and repeated listening. The only way I have found to approach this work is on endless repeat, now on day #2, and there is no sign of wearing out the ears yet, but no surprise: this is Bach at the summit.


S-Z in the BA / 'ss' and 'ß' in the BGA

Jason Marmaras wrote (February 7, 2004):
[snip]
Es-Zed/SZ(?) in the Bachausgabe: At least in the Dover reprint of einachts-Oratorium BWV 248 that I have there are no occurances of an sz - all words have ss (dass, Grosser, &c.) Was this the practice at the time or... what?

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 7, 2004):
[To Jason Marmaras] Yes and no. This was a time of considerable orthographic uncertainty. The BGA was published between 1850 and 1897. Uncertainty and confusion abounded regarding spelling reforms, also regarding the use of ‘ss’ and ‘ß’, under discussion here, but actual changes during the last half of the 19th century only took place irregularly at different times in the various countries/states of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Fundamentally under discussion was the Heyse-reform/rule which stated that ‘ss’ should occur after a short vowel and ‘ß’ after a long vowel or diphthong. In time this general rule was adopted in Germany. By examining the BGA (I looked at the Oster-Oratorium, BWV 249/7 ‘Schweisstuch’ which does not follow this orthographic rule), it should be possible to ascertain if the editors were following this rule or not (in this case not.) There is an on-going history still being made at the present time regarding the use of ‘ss’ and ‘ß.’ Depending on how correct you want to be now in rendering ‘Schweisstuch’ properly, you have to decide on which side of this always emotional argument you wish to stand. Take a position and stick with it. Uniformity in this matter is unattainable as even the lawmakers in Germany seem to have failed in enforcing the orthographic rules that are supposed to be taught in the schools.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (February 8, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] There is a point that is being ignored here, though.

The practice of double ss was the common practice in Bach's time and earlier. Therefore, the appearance of it in the BGA edition is in keeping with the procedures of the time. It they wanted to modrnize it, they would have used the Beta sign (like Germans do today). That is also why if one looks at the manuscript for BWV 248 it is called "Weynachts-Oratorium". The modern verion of it would be "Weinachts-Oratorium" or simply "Weinachtsoratorium".


Christmas Oratorio
Christmas Oratorio & OVPP

Benjamin Mullins wrote (March 18, 2004):
I realize I may be risking my life by asking this question, but are there any recordings of the Christmas Oratorio that employ the vocal approach advocated by Parrott, McCreesh, etc.? Pickett perhaps?

Thanks in advance!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Benjamin Mullins] What ar shame you feel this is a dangerous question! The Pickett is fairly minimal, as far as the orchestra goes, and the chorus is 3-to-a-part, with the soloists being drawn from the choir. I rather like this bright and breezy recording.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 18, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < What a shame you feel this is a dangerous question! >
Agreed! Why would such a question, or opinion, be stomped on...except by people who would limit musicality (or their own edification as listeners) to the extent of their own imaginations or experience?

Essential reading in this matter is, of course, the very well-researched book by Andrew Parrott: The Essential Bach Choir, 2000:
http://www.boydell.co.uk/3986.HTM
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0851157866
This book, as others have pointed out, also includes as an appendix the 1981 article by Joshua Rifkin that has sparked this line of inquiry in the field.

See also John Butt's article "Bach's vocal scoring: what can it mean?" That is from Early Music, Feb 1998 v26 n1 p99. Butt gives a short summary of the debate, then gets on to his main points: that we shouldn't get so hung up about sound or instrumentation that we forget about meaning, or Bach's didacticism. He explores the possible theological implications in Bach's deployof voices, and the necessary context of church services (rather than recordings or concerts) to understand some of Bach's compositional choices. His concluding paragraph: "This short study suggests something of the way Bach's scoring of the Passions may have been designed to reinforce certain aspects of the Lutheran faith and create extra shades of meaning in the text and music. It may well be that these aspects of the scoring were more important to Bach than the difference of sound between one, two or three singers on a part. Whatever the truth of my conjectures, they should at least suggest that even if we get exactly the same balance of forces that Bach attained or desired, the music will have little of the intended effect in the context of the largely agnostic world of historical performance. Only in the late 20th century has it been regularly assumed that historical fidelity of sound somehow carries with it the fidelity of historical experience; this position is becoming increasingly difficult to uphold. "

Adrian Horsewood wrote (March 18, 2004):
[To Benjamin Mullins] I think Pickett has three on each of SATB, but I'm not sure - I'm at university and my copy is at home!

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] What about Christoph Wolff's biography and the works by Spitta, Schweitzer, and Geiringer?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] What about them?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 19, 2004):
Benjamin Mullins wrote: < I realize I may be risking my life by asking this question, but are there any recordings of the Christmas Oratorio that employ the vocal approach advocated by Parrott, McCreesh, etc.? >
Benjamin, I'm not aware of any OVPP recording of the Christmas Oratorio.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Their old assumptions are overturned in this presentation, and Parrott explains why he believes some of Wolff's points are mistaken. Read his book, considering the detailed evidence presented. Then, see if you still agree with Spitta (et al), beyond being accustomed to their previously unquestioned assumptions, and accustomed to your own.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I would be cautious here. Wolff's biography came out about a year or two ago.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Also, I have an issue with Parrott anyways.

His recording of the Johannespassion advertizes itself to be a recording of the 1749 version. However, there is very little of it that is the 1749 version. And before you say that it is, I have read the text that he uses. He only changes the last part of Nr. 19 and thee entirety of Nr. 20. According to what I have heard in the 1997 Rilling recording of the Johannespassion, there were a lot of alterations in this version (in the text as well as in instrumentation). One example is the first Soprano Aria. In the 1749 version, it changes from "I folge dir gleichfalls mit freudigen Schritten" to "Ich folge dir gleichfalls, mein Heiland, mit freuden". However, Parrott does not use this change. Not to mention that he uses many of the changes that Bach made in the not performed during his (Bach's) lifetime 1739-1749 revision (the source of the modern version and the standard performances of the work).

Benjamin Mullins wrote (March 19, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < Benjamin, I'm not aware of any OVPP recording of the Christmas Oratorio. >
What a pity. I'm sure I won't have too long to wait, though. In the meantime, Pickett's is tempting, but then so is Gardiner's. So many choices!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] But none of this has any bearing on the rightness (or otherwise) of Parrott's OVPP theories.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 19, 2004):
Wolff's biography came out in 2000, and Parrott's book (which also came out in 2000) cites it both in the bibliography and the footnotes. I have them both right here. Wolff does not cite any writings by either Parrott or Rifkin in his bibliography, or in the index.

Rather than "being cautious here" and offering excuses not to read Parrott's book, why not just read it and see what it says? It only takes a couple of hours.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To Benjamin Mullins] How advisable would an OVPP recording be though? Perhaps it would work in Cantatas 2 4 and 5, but the rest have the more "festive" orchestration (i.e. trumpet group, which includes tympani), indicating a need for a fuller, larger sound (the "standard" 4vpp?).

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] But if you accept the OVPP principle, the presence (or otherwise) of trumpets (or whatever) in the orchestra is irrelevant, surely.


Benjamin Mullins wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] Well first of all I want to make it clear that I am not familiar with the Christmas Oratorio. I don't even have a recording of it, hence my original question. Nonetheless, as Parrott has shown in his book, a larger orchestra does not necessarily demand a larger vocal group. Anyway, for the larger bits, Bach certainly might have used ripienists here and there, though only concertits' parts have survived.

This demonstrates the problem with the label "One-voice-per-part". I don't mean you in particular, Matt, but many people seem to think that "OVPP" means exactly that: only one voice per part ALL the time, no matter what. As Parrott shows, this is simply NOT the case! I trust Parrott's research and his performance experience. I can also personally testify to the fact that real natural trumpets (as opposed to vented instruments) are capable of playing at dynamic levels that would certainly allow "only" four voices to be clearly heard.

I apologize if I'm preaching to the choir (I should probably apologize for that pun as well! ;-)).

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 19, 2004):
[To Benjmin Mullins] For a first recording to get acquainted with the piece, I'd have a terribly difficult time choosing among my five favorites: Peter Neumann, Ralf Otto, Harry Christophers, Philippe Herreweghe, or Nikolaus Harnoncourt. (Listed in no particular order.) Or the 1st one by Gardiner, which I heard years ago and enjoyed but never got around to buying.

See discography and some discussions at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/index.htm#BWV248

I remember, many years ago at Christmas, seeing a different Harnoncourt performance on television and being very moved by it. I think that was the first time I'd heard the piece.

I'm most tempted to get Beringer's or Pickett's or Veldhoven's next, unless somebody does come forth with one where it's all (or mostly) ripienists.

Charles Francis wrote (March 19, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Wolff's biography came out in 2000, and Parrott's book (which also came out in 2000) cites it both in the bibliography and the footnotes. I have them both right here. Wolff does not cite any writings by either Parrott or Rifkin in his bibliography, or in the index.
Rather than "being cautious here" and offering excuses not to read Parrott's book, why not just read it and see what it says? It only takes a couple of hours. >
However, if you prefer to study Rikfin's thesis critically, I would suggest reading more slowly than Mr. Lehman.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 20, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] It doesn't have a bearing on his theories, but it does on him and his credibility. I personally favor the scholars like Christoph Wolff and the contributors to the Bach-Jahrbuch series to people like Parrott. What are his credentials? Why should we take him seriously? The only credentials I have heard about or read about him are that he is a conductor. Nothing more than that. So, if that is the case, should we start to take all conductors at their word if they propound theories? If so, then what need have we of musicologists and music scholars?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 20, 2004):
<< Rather than "being cautious here" and offering excuses not to read Parrott's book, why not just read it and see what it says? It onltakes a couple of hours. >>
< However, if you prefer to study Rikfin's thesis critically, I would suggest reading more slowly than Mr. Lehman. >
How, exactly, do you have ANY NOTION how closely and critically I have studied this book?

Or, after the first read-through to get its overall argument in mind, how many times I have revisited it (so far) in cross-reference with other materials?

Granted, it would probably take someone with little or no training in the field somewhat longer to "study it critically" as the correspondent suggests. If "studying it critically" means "looking desperately for any holes in it, destroying or belittling evidence to try to knock it down", that indeed would take quite a bit longer, because the argument as presented by Rifkin and Parrott is a convincingly plausible one (in my professional opinion).

Cynics who loathe the outcome are free to disagree, but the disagreement should be backed up with solid evidence and sound logical reasoning if it is to mean anything.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 20, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: < It doesn't have a bearing on his theories, but it does on him and his credibility. I personally favor the scholars like Christoph Wolff and the contributors to the Bach-Jahrbuch series to people like Parrott. What are his credentials? Why should we take him seriously? The only credentials I have heard about or read about him are that he is a conductor. Nothing more than that. >

What credentials do you require, exactly?! He isn't just a conductor. As previous posts have demonstrated, what you have "heard or read" are not necessarily what is true. And we should take him seriously because he is one of the most intelligent, questioning, imaginative and thoughtful musicians currently active in 'early music', both as a scholar and as a performer.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 20, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: < should we start to take all conductors at their word if they propound theories? If so, then what need have we of musicologists and music scholars? >
Parrott is both, that's the point. (As are many other 'early music' performers.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 20, 2004):
An correspondent of this mailing list who still uses epithets such as ‘cynics’ to describe other individuals on this list stated:
>> Granted, it would probably take someone with little or no training in the field somewhat longer to "study it critically" as the correspondent suggests. If "studying it critically" means "looking desperately for any holes in it, destroying or belittling evidence to try to knock it down", that indeed would take quite a bit longer….<<
The strange thing is that these ‘holes’ can be found very quickly and then the entire ‘house of cards’ begins to tumble down. If these musicologist authors were truly ‘convincingly plausible’ in their books and articles, then this would not be the case.

I have offered contrary evidence in the past (which is all part of the record in Aryeh’s site) and will not indulge in further repetition of a discussion with others who have already made up their minds by reading the same sources without seriously entertaining the possibility that the ‘original evidence presented’ may not pertain directly to the critical period and geographical region of Bach’s most important compositions and the possibility that some of the translations rendered from the original German may be misleading or even erroneous.

>>the disagreement should be backed up with solid evidence and sound logical reasoning if it is to mean anything.<<
As I have previously pointed out, the ‘solid evidence and sound logical reasoning’ of some of the key musicologists propounding are not as ‘solid’ and as ‘sound’ as they would wish them to be. The onus of proof is really upon these musicologists to ‘plug’ the gaping holes in their theories that still remain with more truly solid evidence and sounder logical reasoning rather than to rely upon a few believing cheerleaders whose intent is mainly upon whipping up a crowd of yet apathetically, uninvolved listeners, who might otherwise discover and fall in love with some of the non-HIP recordings, to accepting as the gospel truth the performance practices of most HIP recordings.

Certainly a balanced view which assesses critically the virtues and vices of both ‘camps’ would be preferable to one which blindly assumes that one side or the other has all of the answers.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 20, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < a few believing cheerleaders whose intent is mainly upon whipping up a crowd of yet apathetically, uninvolved listeners, who might otherwise discover and fall in love with some of the non-HIP recordings, to accepting as the gospel truth the performance practices of most HIP recordings. >
So people who enjoy HIP recordings, and find that HIP 'performance practices' best serve the music, have all been conned? Or are too apathetic to care? Is it only people who enjoy the performances of, say, Richter, Klemperer or Rilling that care about or are interested in the music? What are the 'performance practices of most HIP recordings' that these apathetic listeners have been fooled into accepting as 'the gospel truth'?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 20, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < As I have previously pointed out, the ‘solid evidence and sound logical reasoning’ of some of the key musicologists propounding are not as ‘solid’ and as ‘sound’ as they would wish them to be. >
Since the OVPP theory is not accepted (for whatever reasons) by many leading HIP conductors the idea that the musicologists in question (notably Parrott and Rifkin) have "whipped up" anybody into accepting their theories as gospel truth is a little wide of the mark.

Moreover has it ever occurred to you that many afficianados of HIP performances and recordings (of whatever hue) might just find that many of the performance practices that you decry - small forces (either vocal or orchestral), minimal vibrato, clarity of texture, lively tempi etc. - best serve the music for purely musical (as opposed to simply historical/musicological) reasons?

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 20, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < As I have previously pointed out, the ‘solid evidence and sound logical reasoning’ of some of the key musicologists propounding are not as ‘solid’ and as ‘sound’ as they would wish them to be. >
A fancy way of saying: you don't enjoy what you hear, and are unable to comprehend Parrott's arguments and/or set aside your own previous assumptions; and therefore it's categorically wrong.

Meanwhile, Parrott's well-done example here has served as an obvious model of imitation: for the wildly illogical rantings of an eminently unqualified "researcher" to suit a different agenda, without acknowledgment, but that's par for the course.

< Since the OVPP theory is not accepted (for whatever reasons) by many leading HIP conductors the idea that the musicologists in question (notably Parrott and Rifkin) have "whipped up" anybody into accepting their theories as gospel truth is a little wide of the mark. >
More than a little wide of it.

< Moreover has it ever occurred to you that many afficianados of HIP performances and recordings (of whatever hue) might just find that many of the performance practices that you decry - small forces (either vocal or orchestral), minimal vibrato, clarity of texture, lively tempi etc. - best serve the music for purely musical (as opposed to simply historical/musicological) reasons? >
Well said.

As for Parrott's book, and reading it critically, I'd offer the following suggestions of areas where I feel he (and Rifkin) could have made their argument even more strongly than they have done:

- Parrott's appreciably obvious use of Quintilian, which could be made more
explicit--especially as Bach himself used Quintilian in (at least) the
Italian Concerto, the MO, the Goldbergs, the P&F 894, and the Art of Fugue.

- Parrott could find some point to make from Peter Wollny's 1994 article about his discovery of the earlier (G major) version of the BMM's "Credo". (What does Wolff's Peters Edition say about this movement in this version? Is it printethere, or available in any recording yet?)

- The bigger picture: HIP as knowing how to think like a composer as part of the re-creative process (instead of merely following instructions), and Rifkin's views and background on that. (Has anybody here heard the 1967 Judy Collins record where Rifkin arranged and conducted an early-music group in accompaniment? I'd like to!)

- Haskell's comparative assessment of Rifkin and Marshall (in his chapter "Playing Bach 'His Way'") deserves some comment, but Parrott didn't bring that in.

Benjamin Mullins wrote (March 20, 2004):
[To Thomas Braatz] So, am I to assume you include me in that "crowd of yet apathetically, uninvolved listeners"? How dare you!?

I am not refering to the above post only, but this is exactly why I was nervous about asking for a simple recording recomendation. From the Bach Recordings Discussion List no less. What was I thinking?

Donald Satz wrote (March 20, 2004):
[To Benjamin Mullins] Thomas needs to be reminded that folks who listen to HIP recordings do so because of the pleasure they derive from the performances, not because of anyone's research.

Sw Anandgyan wrote (March 21, 2004):
Currently listening to Herrerweghe's first recording of the Johannes-Passion. I have seen Jeannette Sorrell English version of this oeuvre and her Monteverdi Vespro Della Beata Vergine with Apollo's Fire available at a Montréal second-hand music store. I think it's Mr. Lehman who mentioned his appreciation of her Bach recording.

On my way to listen again to Cantus Cölln's B minor Mass, I have stopped at some cantatas by Joshua Rifkin, Andrew Parrott SJP and his EO ... This particular oratorio seduced me in acquiring Paul McCreesh's OVPP version and after one listen I was quite impressed with it, though the following Magnificat had me perplexed, at least it invited me to discover brisk tempos;this experience was not a revelation but more like a disconcerting one.

I'm glad I can enjoy some of Gönnewein's recordings ( three cantatas and the SJP, the SMP has been ordered ... ) because not that it is bland, it's just has no bad surprises and I'm starting to agree that Elly Ameling is truly a fine soprano.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 22, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Has he contributed to any of the scholarly works like the Bach-Jahrbuch as Wolff has and still does?

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 22, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Actually, that is not necessarilly the case. If you look rather closely, the realm of music scholars/musicologists and performers is small. The ones that do publish are more on performance of a particular piece (i.e., Leonhardt's article on the Die Kunst der Fuge).

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 22, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] Is that your only criterion for credibility then?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 22, 2004):
[To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] [To David Glenn Lebut Jr.] What is not necesarily the case? The second sentence doesn't really make any sense to me...

David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote (March 23, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < Is that your only criterion for credibility then? >
My point is that that is an internationally periodical done by scholars with a very sound and long history. If he advertizes himself as a scholar, then he would write articles for that periodical or something similar to it, not just every now and then publishing an article of his own.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 23, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: < If he advertizes himself as a scholar, then he would write articles for that periodical or something similar to it, not just every now and then publishing an article of his own. >
Why?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (March 23, 2004):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote: < My point is that that is an internationally periodical done by scholars with a very sound and long history. If he advertizes himself as a scholar, then he would write articles for that periodical or something similar to it, not just every now and then publishing an article of his own. >
Clearly (perhaps because you don't like his performances?) you are not willing to take Andrew Parrott seriously, so nothing he does will satisfy you.

Santu De Silva wrote (March 26, 2004):
Donald Satz wrote: < Thomas needs to be reminded that folks who listen to HIP recordings do so because of the pleasure they derive from the performances, not because of anyone's research. >
Thomas Braatz keeps up a line of rhetoric that seems to suggest he's running for President with the Anti-Hip Party. I have stopped using the term HIP (at least for the past two months) simply because it is no longer useful. All Thomas is attacking now –as several posts have pointed out, including the one to which I'm responding-- is people's tastes. There is some ulterior motive in all this propaganda that T.B. manages to dredge up. Its entertainment value is now very low.


"Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben"

Juozas Rimas wrote (May 31, 2004):
The only version of the Xmas oratorio I got is Gardiner's: the choruses, chorales and arias are good to great, except for one aria which I almost cannot listen to: the tenor aria "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben". It is one of my favorites, mind you (the violin duo is tremendous!), but what was Bach thinking when writing that many ornaments for the voice?

When I listen to the Gardiner's tenor I have suspicions that it's not about the singer being poor but rather music being adapted from an instrumental piece, because now it seems unsingable and therefore almost unaesthetic.

Perhaps there is an instrumental recording of this aria for, eg oboe or flute solo instead of voice?

Or perhaps you've heard a version where the tenor would clearly sing out (if it's at all possible) the notes in a pleasant way?

Thanks!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (May 31, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote: "When I listen to the Gardiner's tenor I have suspicions that it's not about the singer being poor but rather music being adapted from an instrumental piece, because now it seems unsingable and therefore almost unaesthetic."
Who's the tenor? Is it Anthony Rolfe Johnson?

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (May 31, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] This aria sounds right up my alley - even if I am a soprano. If it's high enough, I can even sing it in the original octave. If not, then I'll just take it up an octave - either way, I'll get my hands on it, God willing, and let you know what I come up with :) If I manage to do it clearly, I'll see about recording it...

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 31, 2004):
Juozas Rimas asked:
>> the tenor aria "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben". It is one of my favorites, mind you (the violin duo is tremendous!), but what was Bach thinking when writing that many ornaments for the voice?
When I listen to the Gardiner's tenor I have suspicions that it's not about the singer being poor but rather music being adapted from an instrumental piece, because now it seems unsingable and therefore almost unaesthetic.<<
The problem is not so much with Bach here. It has much more to do with a conductor, Gardiner, taking the tempo a bit too fast (as usual) and thereby forcing the tenor, Hans Peter Blochwitz, who in this instance does not have the appropriate voice for this aria to sing in such a manner which might at times be called ‘ugly.’ [For some modern listeners and performers, ‘ugliness’ of sound is tolerated and perhaps even seen as a virtue, but for me it simply undermines Bach’s intentions. An inferior voice has lack of control and does not have the capability to sing with a full voice without sounding forced.]

A recording that I do like is conducted by Rilling and sung by Peter Schreier. The tempo is lively as well (not quite as fast as Gardiner’s), however, there is much more depth, strength, and meaning in the playing of the instruments and in Schreier’s singing as well. Gardiner treats this aria with an extreme lightness/shortness in order to obtain an entertaining, almost ‘jazzy’ sound which is not very appropriate here. Rilling, while also playing the staccato notes as written in the score (but not as short and light as Gardiner does) lends more substance to the bass foundation. Schreier’s vocal versatiand his complete understanding of and identification with the seriousness of the text puts him head and shoulders above Blochwitz whose battle with the notes is apparent to most listeners.

What was Bach thinking when he first composed this aria in the summer of 1733 as mvt. 7 of BWV 213? There is no evidence that Bach based this upon an earlier, solely instrumental piece. On the contrary, he translated perfectly into music the key word in that secular cantata aria: ‘schweben’ the word upon which most of the coloraturas occur [in the Christimas Oratorio it becomes ‘leben’ = ‘to live.’] The verb ‘schweben’ is rather difficult to translate properly, but what it tries to express is the feeling of being uplifted and floating about weightlessly, hovering in the air as if in a dream-like state. In the secular aria text which inspired Bach to compose the music in this manner, the text begins: “Auf meinen Flügeln sollst du schweben…steigen den Sternen zu wie ein Adler” [“On my wings you will be uplifted and floated upwards hoveringly - like an eagle - toward the stars”] It is on the verbs ‘schweben’ and ‘steigen’ that Bach breaks into the wonderful coloraturas that you hear as embellishments/ornamentation. The secular aria uses an oboe, a violin and bc as accompaniment. This was later replaced in the Christmas Oratorio aria with two violins and bc – a combination that begins to sound very much like a double-violin concerto in progress. The text, in contrast, is now more powerful (not represented very well by Gardiner with his flighty interpretation highlighting a tenor who is struggling against Bach’s music.) “Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben, mein Heiland, gib mir Kraft und Mut…“ [‚My strong will is to live my life only to honor you, my savior, give me (enough) strength and courage (to do this)…’] The idea of floating dreamlike heavenwards has now been changed completely into an earthbound perspective, feet planted with firm resolve upon the ground, calling upon Christ to call forth all the necessary strength and courage to continue onwards – put yourself into Bach’s shoes at this point in his life! The coloraturas on the words ‘leben’ and ‘Kraft’ now have to be treated somewhat differently. Schreier does this outstandingly, but Gardiner’s tenor, Blochwitz, struggles and succumbs, thus losing his battle here on earth. This is not what Bach would have wanted.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (May 31, 2004):
< When I listen to the Gardiner's tenor I have suspicions that it's not about the singer being poor but rather music being adapted from an instrumental piece, because now it seems unsingable and therefore almost unaesthetic. >
True, the fugal texture in this aria definitely puts the violins on a more equal ground with the tenor soloists, and according to my BGA score the violin parts are marked "solo". These two things strongly suggest a chamber setting (well, more like creates a chamber setting), a "quattro sonata" of sorts. However there are a few problems with this idea-

Firstly, how likely is it that Bach would write a sonata for three solo instruments and continuo? Secondly, how likely is it that one of the three would be a tenor-range instrument? Was he known to do octave transpositions (which are mostly frowned upon in HIP practice today-not to hinder your own enjoyment though, Cara!)? A Gamba part?

Thirdly, I never said that the violins were completely equal with the tenor soloist-there is still a level of superiority, namely the melody-accompaniment ideas in mm 13-15 and 47-52 and 62-69, the soloist-continuo cadences in mm 33 and 70, and in the final cadence of the B section, the tenor soloist moves re-do, even though the 1st vio moves ti-do: if the three voices were equal hence creating a 4-part SATB texture, Bach would almost invariably move the tenor re-mi and keep the alto (vio 2) sol-sol to create a complete chord (this may be countered of course by the "octave transposition" theory...)

Albeit densely fugal, it resembles more of an aria than a sonata in these ways, as well as in form: the various entries by the violins mostly act as part of ritornelli, and how many "da capo sonatas" are out there in the baroque (yes, I know-classical sonata form is based on da capo form, but this is hardly relevant...).

So, no I don't believe it came from an instrumental medium-even if it were a concerto (i.e. the violins were tutti not soli) with the tenor soloist taking the principale part, where's the viola part? Of course we can't be entirely certain (unless we find a manuscript of an instrumental version from before the composition of the original aria in BWV 213!), but the idea that it was always an aria-whether from BWV 213 or reworked in BWV 248-and not originally an instrumental piece makes more sense.

John Pike wrote (June 4, 2004):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] I only have Gardiner's recording of this work, which I love, including this aria. When my wife (a German, not an active musician but enjoys Bach) heard this recording, she immediately said how much she loved this particular aria and that she would like it played at her funeral (hopefully not for many years yet!) Since that first hearing, her request has not changed.

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 1, 2004):
Voice-to-instrument, coloraturas (Was: "Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben")

Matthew Neugebauer wrote: < that it was always an aria-whether from BWV 213 or reworked in BWV 248 - and not originally an instrumental piece makes more sense. >
Yes, my question about whether it could be originally (or after an arrangement) an instrumental piece was more or less rhetoric. When I hear complex coloraturas, ornaments which sometimes tend to block the important instrumental parts in the background, I instantly get a desire of hearing the piece played only by instruments (similarly, when I hear a huge choir which drowns out the orchestra, I fancy of OVPP). It is likely the desire is induced by poor singing or extreme tempos: I'll try to make Rilling's my second recording of the Xmas oratorio and hope the vocal part of the aria in question will be more attractive and my fantasy of hearing an all-instrumental version will vanish.

However, I have one unpleasant experience that even the best voices have difficulties with coloraturas. I've listened (a sample on a website) to Dieskau singing the aria "Grosser Herr, o starker König" from the Xmas oratorio and was disappointed of how my favorite male voice sings the word "achtest" in the second verse. In "a-a-a-a-a-a-a-achtest", every "a" seemed to be the same note of unexplainable pitch, as if an engine was working. Perhaps everysinger professional would say the way he sings the coloraturas there is masterful etc but I, as a mere listener, was not impressed.

Returning to voice-to-instrument arranging, I have come upon instrumental versions of Bach's cantata movements that I previously heard sung. Usually this happens with Bach's "hits", eg the chorale "Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe" from BWV 147, chorale "Zion hört die Wächter singen" from BWV 140 (I've heard this sung by a choir, sung by Equiluz solo and played all-instrumental), soprano aria "Schafe können sicher weiden" from BWV 208. In neither of these pieces I felt the necessity to change voices with instruments because their vocal parts do not sound complicated. I think it was done to sell the music better by removing the incomprehensible German text. With the soprano aria the result is almost funny: an orchestral piece called "Sheep may safely graze" for no apparent reason :)

Anyway, I'm very tolerant to any arrangements, including voice-to-instrument ones. I haven't paid attention yet whether Bach was doing voice-to-instrument or instrument-to-voice arrangements of his own pieces himself. Do such author's arrangements exist?

Thomas Braatz wrote (May 31, 2004):
Juozas Rimas asked: >>I haven't paid attention yet whether Bach was doing voice-to-instrument or instrument-to-voice arof his own pieces himself. Do such author's arrangements exist?<<
It might be worthwhile to consult David L. Humphreys’ article on the “Schübler Chorales” [for organ] BWV 645-650 in Boyd’s “Oxford Composer Companions: J.S.Bach” [Oxford University Press, 1999.] These are important later ‘instrumental’ arrangements of cantata movements originally with solo voice and instrumental accompaniment.

There are numerous examples of ‘Choreinbau’ and ‘Vokaleinbau’ [see the article on the latter in the above reference book-but unfortunately this article refers only to this device as used within a single mvt. rather than also the transformation of an instrumental piece into a vocal one with instrumental accompaniment.]

A good example of the latter is BWV 146. Here Bach takes what for us is a famous keyboard concerto BWV 1052, [Bach used all the mvts. of this keyboard concerto in some form or other in his cantatas] and, for instance in BWV 146/2 composes (‘writes into’; ‘expands the original to include’) an additional, entirely new 4-pt. choral structure ‘on top of the original’!

Juozas Rimas: >> However, I have one unpleasant experience that even the best voices have difficulties with coloraturas. I've listened (a sample on a website) to Dieskau singing the aria "Grosser Herr, o starker König" from the Xmas oratorio and was disappointed of how my favorite male voice sings the word "achtest" in the second verse. In "a-a-a-a-a-a-a-achtest", every "a" seemed to be the same note of unexplainable pitch, as if an engine was working. Perhaps every singer professional would say the way he sings the coloraturas there is masterful etc but I, as a mere listener, was not impressed.<<
Nor would I! To be sure, hearing a snippet sample from a website might not be the same as hearing the same on a good sound system, but get used to the idea that, even under the best circumstances for listening, Fischer-Dieskau may not always live up to the high expectations that many have come to have of him. What you seem to be referring to is a characteristic, sometimes rather ugly, form of voice production that might be compared to a short, dry, hacking, coughing sound where the actual note/pitch is no longer decipherable because a vibrato interferes as well, thus destroying any semblance of real pitch. You may have to get used to the fact that the extremely fast wobbly-vibrato can be found with a number of HIP singers as well. The singer of either camp, whether well-trained even to sing opera (or just because of this type of singing which has overly strained the voice) or experienced in singing in the historically informed style, can have an insecure ‘wobbliness’ generally present in the voice, a ‘wobbliness’ (fast, uncontrolled vibrato) which is exacerbated when the singer tries to sing fast coloraturas (running 8th or 16th notes) with each single note ‘suffering’ the distortion which the fast vibrato causes. On the other hand, would you want to hear the same coloraturas performed by voices that slide indistinctly from one note to the next creating a ‘wailing’ effect? Each note needs to be enunciated clearly with the pitch of each note being firm and not wavering about in an uncontrolled fashion. This is what you, others, and I are looking for, but it is difficult to find a soloist where such precision, such absolute vocal control is combined with a deep understanding for the music and text; otherwise, faced with the prospect of hearing poor vocal performances, as you have indicated, it might be more satisfying to listen to only instrumental renditions of these arias, just as it might be more pleasant to listen to a Wagner opera without Wagnerian singers, where the voice parts are replaced with instruments so as not to have to put up with some of the results which are certainly abominable from a purely vocal standpoint. Just as there were/are good Wagnerian singers, so also there were/are/must be good Bach singers. It is up to us not to give up the search too easily and succumb to the notion that it was/is impossible to find great performances of Bach’s vocal music. A higher level of discrimination certainly makes the search take longer, but “Gut Ding’ will Weile haben” [‘it takes {a longer amount of} time to find what is truly good and worthwhile.’]

Robert Sherman wrote (June 6, 2004):
I don't dispute anything said here, but nevertheless I love DFD's "Grosser Herr und Starker König" for his enthusiasm and the fun contrast he makes between the great king and the little sleeping baby. But I don't listen to this recording much because the (valve) trumpet is essentially inaudible.

Going OT for a moment, I agree with Thomas' dislike of Wagnering singing but for a different reason. Wagner's orchestral writing is frequently thrilling and magnificent, but his vocal parts generally strike me as boring and pointless, serving no purpose other than to let singers with huge voices show them off. I could happily live the rest of my life on the proverbial desert island with all my Wagner recordings limited to orchestral excerpts.



Continue on Part 6


Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248: Details
Recordings: 1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Individual Movements
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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
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BWV 248 - Collegium Aureum | BWV 248 - H. Christophers | BWV 248 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 248 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 248 - R. Jacobs | BWV 248 - N. McGegan | BWV 248 - R. Otto | BWV 248 - K. Richter | BWV 248 - H. Rilling | BWV 248 - P. Schreier | BWV 248 - M. Suzuki | BWV 248 - K. Thomas | BWV 248 - J.v. Veldhoven
Articles:
A Bottomless Bucket of Bach - Christmas Oratorio [D. Satz] | BWV 248/19 “Schlafe, mein Liebster” - A Background Study with Focus on the Colla Parte Flauto Traverso Part [T. Braatz]

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Last update: ýJanuary 18, 2007 ý19:02:19