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In Defense of Bach

By John Reese (June 2004)

Feedback to the Article

John Reese wrote (June 29, 2004):
Last month I stumbled across a quite long and well-researched article on the web arguing that Vivaldi was a better composer than Bach. I couldn't let this go, so I have written a response that Aryeh has put on the bach-cantatas "articles" page.

This was an interesting exercise, because it forced me to think about WHY Bach is considered a great composer in rational terms, apart from the fact that I happen to like his music. The second half of the article goes into quite a bit of technical detail in an attempt to demonstrate why we say that Bach is a great composer -- not just because we say so, but because of his extremely high level of craftsmanship (which requires, of course, a suitable definition of "craftsmanship").

I hope everyone will take a look at it, although I must apologize for the length. The original article was long, so I felt the response had to be at least as long.

Aryeh Oron wrote (June 29, 2004):
John Reese's article: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Defense-Bach[Reese].htm

Zev Bechler wrote (June 29, 2004):
[To John Reese] Thank you but please provide links to the paper you argue against as well as to your original reply if outside the list. For some Yahoo reason I cant reach the archived stuff on the BC or BR sites, so it would be nice if you could attach your paper to your reply to my address.

Zev Bechler wrote (June 29, 2004):
[To John Reese] Got your reply paper from Areyh's posting, with the link to the original,
so all is ok.

Uri Golomb wrote (June 29, 2004):
[To John Reese] Thank you for your article. It is indeed very interesting -- to judge by first glance (I have yet to read it more thoroughly). I especially liked your comparison of the two settings of "Qui sedes".

Two small comments:

1. You write: "I must apologize for the length. The original article was long, so I felt the response had to be at least as long". I don't think that's a very logical consideration. The original article was long because it was very poorly edited; it looks like an initial draft, not like a carefully considered version.
(My initial drafts are always much longer than the final versions).

2. Somewhat off-topic: you write, in the article: "I place Vivaldi somewhat in the same category as Schubert, who lacked the technical skill of the great masters but made up for it by a fertile imagination". I disagree.... I think Schubert was a much more profound composer than Vivaldi (though I do enjoy the latter's music). The main problem with Schubert, in my view, is that he died too soon. I don't just mean that 31 is a tragically young age; I also mean that he was starting a new period in his creative output precisely towards the end of his life. His best large-scale works (e.g., the last quartet, the string quintet) date from his last year: he was acquiring skills gradually, and unfortunately he simply didn't have the time to develop them further. But for me, it's simply wrong to say that a work like the String Quintet betryas any lack of skill. (To put it differently: how many of Haydn's best works, for example, date from before his 30th birthday? And the last thing one could say about Haydn is that he lacked technical skill...)

Uri Golomb wrote (June 29, 2004):
[To John Reese] One more point: like Claude Fernandez, John Reese refers repeatedly to Bach's notoriety. Now, the OED defines "notoriety" as "the fact of being famous or well known, esp. for some reprehensible action, quality, etc." -- that is, the word has negative overtones. The word "fame" would have been better, or even "reputation" (which is admittedly neutral: you can have a good or bad reputation). I am sure native speakers of English (which I am not) can come up with better alternatives.

John Pike wrote (June 29, 2004):
[To Uri Golomb] I'm a great fan of Schubert, Haydn and Vivaldi (probably in that order). I strongly agree with Uri about Schubert dying too young. The String quintet, the late quartets and the late piano sonatas are, IMHO, masterpieces of the highest order. What Mozart and Schubert might have produced if they had lived longer is probably too awesome to contemplate.

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 29, 2004):
Thanks for the article! Sadly, I cannot enjoy your arias comparison because I can't read the score without counting each note :)

I was very surprised the author chose Vivaldi as a rival for J. S. Bach.

One more point not to be forgotten, for the sake of fairness: Bach, besides the best music ever written, composed some uninspired and boring music as well. Yesterday I endured the "Peasant Cantata" (BWV 212) somehow, along with BWV 168 and BWV 175. These works are calamitously flopped, according to Bach's standards. I couldn't find one worthwile movement in the "Peasant Cantata" and only chorales are at least a bit enjoyable in the other two mentioned cantatas.I will try to listen to the works for the 3rd time but I doubt there is anything to "blossom" there.

Lex Schelvis wrote (June 29, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] So you listened to three cantatas you don't like on the same day, while there are so many perfect ones. Had a bad day? There are some pieces of Bach I don't like either, and I listen to them over and over again in a effort to like them, but one at a time, please.

I agree with your opinion about BWV 212 and BWV 168, but I quite like BWV 175, especially the pastorale with the three recorders and the second aria with the violoncello piccolo, an instrument I particularly like. A cantata I donīt like instead is BWV 43. The opening chorus is considered as a highlight in choral writing, but for me itīs to chaotic. I read somewhere that itīs perfectly structured. Still for me this opening movement is the best part of the cantata, the ariaīs are not interesting for me at all, theyīre even (I hardly don't dare to say) boring to me, in all the versions I have heard so far (Harnoncourt, Leusink, Koopman live and Herreweghe). Aryeh Oron though called all of the four aria's "of the highes quality", so I guess I'm the one to blame, and I keep on trying to like it. But when I do, I always listen to a favourite one after it, as a kind of compensation. And favourite one's are much easier to find.

John Reese wrote (June 30, 2004):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< you write, in the article: "I place Vivaldi somewhat in the same category as Schubert, who lacked the technical skill of the great masters but made up for it by a fertile imagination". I disagree.... I think Schubert was a much more profound composer than Vivaldi (though I do enjoy the latter's music). >
Well, by "same category" I didn't mean "same level". Schubert was clearly a much more gifted composer than Vivaldi. However, he himself lamented his lack of skill in counterpoint. I remember singing one of his masses in college that had some glaring voice-leading errors in it. But looking at compositions like the B minor symphony and the song "Der Doppelgaenger", you can't help wondering what he would have accomplished had he lived another twenty or thirty years.

John Reese wrote (June 30, 2004):
[To Juozas Rimas] I feel the same way about the Peasant Cantata (BWV 212). I figured, though, that Bach was trying to capture the spirit of the songs that peasants sang, and they were apparently pretty dreadful.

I have listened to some Bach cantatas that struck me as being somewhat sub-par, but I usually find that they were parodies of earlier pieces that he jury-rigged to fill a practical need for more music.

John Pike wrote (June 30, 2004):
[To John Reese] I actually rather like the Peasant Cantata. as John says, I think Bach is trying capture the spirit of songs peasants sang. I am reminded of the "Cries of London" by Orlando Gibbons, a fine (but in many ways very different) piece about cries of ordinary men and women selling goods in 16th century London.

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 30, 2004):
Lex Schelvis wrote: < I agree with your opinion about BWV 212 and BWV 168, but I quite like BWV 175, especially the pastorale with the three recorders and the second aria with the violoncello piccolo, an instrument I particularly like. A cantata I >
I've re-listened to the two movements you mentioned, and stay by my opinion that the best movement of BWV 175 is the chorale, alas, just an instance of "Komm, heiliger Geist". The alto aria is interesting because of its 3-dolce-flutes line-up but musically, I couldn't catch a stirring moment. I also like the violoncello piccolo but the instrumental introduction of the tenor aria lasts only several seconds! I'm used to the situation that when Bach doesn't bother with a relatively long and elaborated instrumental introduction, I'm not likely to hear a good aria. Usually it can be heard right away whether JSB was serious about the music. If the voice comes after several strokes of the bow, I don't expect much. I'm sure there're exceptions.

BTW, I know I heard one of the best available renditions (by Prégardien).

< donīt like instead is BWV 43. The opening chorus is considered as a highlight in choral writing, but for me itīs to chaotic. I read somewhere that itīs perfectly structured. Still for me this opening movement is the best part of the cantata, the ariaīs are not interesting for me at all, >
I agree with your assessment of BWV 43 - I've marked it as a "flop" in my cantatas list :) I've just listened to BWV 43 chorus and while the introduction is lovely and promising, it doesn't continue on that level. I've even marked ir "OVPP needed?" for myself in hope that some time in the future I'll be able to hear an OVPP version of the choir, because I believe that OVPP reduces the choric chaos when music is complex. The rest of cantata is indeed sub-par, as John Reese wrote about the Peasant Cantata. I can't deny the euphony in the chorale, though: it is pleasant to the ear but extremely simple, giving a feeling of Renaissance music.

I have heard some more poor cantatas by JSB and will probably give the examples later to verify whether their poorness was an illusion.

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 30, 2004):
John Pike wrote:
< I actually rather like the Peasant Cantata. (BWV 212) as John says, I think Bach is trying capture the spirit of songs peasants sang. >

Yes, if I switch to a lower level of expectation certain parts are rustic fun, eg the minuscule soprano arias "Das ist galant" (No. 10) and "Und dass ihr's alle wisst" (No. 22) but God forbid to approach them after the Mass or a Passion.

BTW, doesn't the No. 10 aria remind you of the same Vivaldi, that Bach was compared to lately? We can jokingly but scientifically state that Vivaldi's average level equals JSB's level in the Peasant Cantata :)

 

In defence of Bach by John Reese

John Pike wrote (July 7, 2004):
I found this a most interesting article. Even by some of Fernandez' own deeply flawed criteria, it is questionable whether Vivaldi is better than Bach. Take popularity. Bach's music has been recycled by countless other composers etc. Even Simon and Garfunkel have used the Passion Chorale (OK maybe not originally by Bach) in one of their songs. His wonderful and well-known melodies have often been used in advertising. People may not know exactly where the melodies came from originally but they have universal appeal. I admire Vivaldi very much as a composer but the Four Seasons is probably his only work known to people with little interest in music whereas a lot of people will be familiar with some of Bach's best known melodies.
For me, some of the greatest qualities of Bach's music are subjective and not open to the excellent musicological analysis that John has done. they are something to do with taste, beauty and just "cracking good tunes".

It is no doubt true that Bach uses pizzicato less often than vivaldi but the demands he places on violinists in the solo sonatas and partitas and in obligato passages in the cantatas etc are considerable. In BWV 95/5 "Ach, schlage doch bald, selge Stunde", the pizzicato writing for the violins is extremely difficult at the usual tempo chosen. Bach frequently uses arpeggio writing to great effect, especially in the Chaconne, and there are some very tricky broken chords/double stopping in the rest of the solo sonatas, especially the G minor and C major fugues. They often don't lie easily under the fingers and require excellent bow control/string crossing. The form they take varies considerably, and variety is something John explores in his article.

I also wholeheartedly agree that to accuse Bach of being unemotional is total pugwash. For me, he is the most emotional of all the composers, but it is because his music is so well crafted in a scientific manner as well that people have accused him of being "too mathematical". The science is certainly there but it never gets in the way of the overall deep emotional impact.

Many thanks for this article.

John Reese wrote (July 10, 2004):
[To John Pike] Thanks for the feedback. I've long been aware of pseudo-scientists and pseudo-historians, but in Fernandez I've discovered the pseudo-musicologist. I suppose the best way to distinguish between a pseudo-musicologist and a real one is that a real musicologist studies the actual music, not just the work of other musicologists...

 

In defence - Telemann

Douglas Cowling wrote (July 7, 2004):
[To John Pike] The real puzzle is why the most widely-admired of the 18th century, Georg Phillip Telemann, has no popularlity whatsoever. Not a single piece in his vast oeuvre has any real standing in the standard performing repertoire nor is there any piece which has any popular profile. Even Pachelbel has his 'Canon' and Albiony his 'Adagio'!

John Pike wrote (July 7, 2004):
[To Douglas Cowling] Yes, interesting isn't it. Of course, Bach thought quite well of Telemann and asked him to be godfather to CPE Bach. The two were friends and Wolff speculates that Telemann may have tipped off JSB about the Leipzig job when he turned it down himself.

I actually quite enjoy some of Telemann's music, especially when played well. I'd be interested to know from Brad some time whether he has tried any Telemann in Bach's temperament. Maybe a reappraisal will be due if the music is transformed by being played in an appropriate temperament. Brad has already hinted that music by CPE Bach and Quantz is transformed when played in Bach's temperament.

Anna Vriend wrote (July 7, 2004):
Re Telemann's music

[To John Pike] Personally, I think Telemann's music is great to play. Maybe more to play than to listen at? Some music lends itself more for "music fun" in that way. And, maybe, in that way, modern people have become somewhat lazy and sit down to listen passively to CDs instead of consuming the music in a more active way.

As for Vivaldi vs. Bach opinions as expressed in the internet article by Fernandez and John Reese's reaction there on, this is my opinion (very shortly, I don't have time to go into all the details of both articles and I find good points in both of them, apologies therefore for the superficiality of this comment):

Comparing both composers just doesn't work, as they are just two very different personalities who express themselves in a very different way through the music. While Bach does a lot with contrapunctal lines, Vivaldi uses a lot through tonal colours and I see him (together with Domenico Scarlatti eg) as more of an impressionist in music.

While I am convinced everyday even more of Bach's incredible genius, and that he is in that sense unique, Vivaldi, Telemann and many others have their standards as well. Comparing them is not feasible.

I for myself could never decide between Bach and Beethoven as the greatest composer ever. Bon this list tends me to get inclined to favour Bach, but Beethoven is still so great.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 7, 2004):
< The real puzzle is why the most widely-admired of the 18th century, Georg Phillip Telemann, has no popularlity whatsoever. Not a single piece in his vast oeuvre has any real standing in the standard performing repertoire nor is there any piece which has any popular profile. Even Pachelbel has his 'Canon' and Albiony his 'Adagio'! >
Maybe Telemann's Canonic Sonatas, if anything? Or the A-minor suite for recorder and strings that flautists like to pull out as complement to the Bach B minor suite? (There's even been a recording of that Telemann suite conducted by Quincy Jones!) Or, maybe the bits of the Tafelmusik that the illustrious subscriber Händel later recycled all over the place?

Anyway, I agree: in public view there's no mega-hit by Telemann. Some of the chamber music has been readily available in those Hortus Musicus and Nagels editions from the mid-20th century, and gets play on student recitals and weddings and such (people playing the obligatory "Baroque" repertoire while not realizing that Telemann was more galant than Baroque**), but as for high-profile warhorses, nope.

** "If it has a basso continuo part it automatically uses harpsichord, and anything with harpsichord is automatically Baroque, right?!?!" (Harpsichordists smile and nod mutely, happy to have landed a gig at all. Oh, that piece again? Why, when there are 500 others to choose from? Oh, now I see, keeping up with the Rampals and Galways, very nice. Will you be phrasing and tongueing like Quantz, or Hotteterre, or Blavet? Ah, like Devienne and Danzi, I see; never mind, I withdraw the question, just go ahead and play it beautifully.)

That "Adagio" is really the work of Giazotto at least as much as Albinoni...at least the slow and treacly arrangement of it that gets all the airplay. IIRC, my first exposure to that one was on the old Malgoire LP. Albinoni/Giazotto is sort of like Boccherini/Grutzmacher and Purcell/Britten: the arrangement becomes more popular than the original, at least for a while.

I remember a teacher of mine, long ago, confiding to the class that "The reason people like the Pachelbel Canon so much is that it reminds them of Neil Diamond."

We watched the "Looney Tunes Back in Action" last night; sure enough, there pops up the Vivaldi mandolin concerto yet again. Same piece that cycles on continuous play on one of the Baby Einstein DVDs, at the menu level. And they probably got it from "Kramer vs Kramer". Urg. The man wrote plenty of music in addition to that piece, and the Four Seasons, and the Gloria; but we get treated to the same ones forever.

John Pike wrote (July 7, 2004):
[To Anna Vriend] I agree. Trying to have "competitions about composers" is not helpful, though comparisons are. John's article was a helpful attempt to try to state objectively why Bach is so good. Personally, I almost worship Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, all for different reasons. I also love Händel, Monteverdi, Purcell, Brahms, Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Britten, Shostakovich....and so on.

Roy Johansen wrote (July 7, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I remember a teacher of mine, long ago, confiding to the class that "The reason people like the Pachelbel Canon so much is that it reminds them of Neil Diamond." >
Are you sure s/he didn't say Ralph McTell? --Are you old enough to remember "Streets of London"? (I agree that Neil Diamond would generally work as well.)

:) Roy

Donald Satz wrote (July 7, 2004):
[To Anna Vriend] In a sense, we make comparisons among composers every day based on the music we buy and listen to. Of course, these comparisons are based just on personal preference. I have many hundreds of Bach recordings, a few dozen Telemann, and zero Vivaldi.

Joost wrote (July 8, 2004):
Anna Vriend wrote:
< Re Telemann's music
Personally, I think Telemann's music is great to play. Maybe more to play than to listen at? Some music lends itself more for "music fun" in that way. And, maybe, in that way, modern people have become somewhat lazy and sit down to listen passively to CDs instead of consuming the music in a more active way. >
I agree with Anna. Telemann's music is high quality playing music. He treats all parts equally, especially in his chamber music, which adds to the pleasure of the players.

For the passive music lovers: give his Paris Quartets a try. The 1738 set is available in a Virgin budget twofer with Sonnerie and Wilbert Hazelzet.

Bach was on the subscription list of these remarkable works. And for those who prefer a larger ensemble: listen to the Paul Dombrecht recording of oboe concertos (Passacaille). After hearing the first measures of the first c-minor concerto it is impossible to maintain that Telemaan is just a mediocre composer of heeps of middle of the road concertos.

Margaret Mikuska wrote (July 9, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< That "Adagio" is really the work of Giazotto at least as much as Albinoni...at least the slow and treacly arrangement of it that gets all the airplay. IIRC, my first exposure to that one was on the old Malgoire LP. Albinoni/Giazotto is sort of like Boccherini/Grutzmacher and Purcell/Britten: the arrangement becomes more popular than the original, at least for a while. >
It's more Giazotto than Albinoni, because that sirupy tune that "everybody" loves is by Giazotto -- it's the bass part that was left by Albinoni. The tune ist'n even very much in the Baroque style.

Boccherini/Grutzmacher has more Boccherini in it.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 10, 2004):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< The real puzzle is why the most widely-admired of the 18th century, Georg Phillip Telemann, has no popularlity whatsoever. Not a single piece in his vast oeuvre has any real standing in the standard performing repertoire nor is there any piece which has any popular profile. >
You may be right in regard to the 'popular profile' aspect, but in circles of musicians and baroque enthusiasts several of Telemann's works are well-known and pretty frequently played and recorded.

To mention a couple: the Overture (or Suite) for recorder, strings & bc, the 'Wassermusik' or 'Hamburger Ebb' und Fluth', the Don Quichotte Suite, pieces from the Tafelmusik, some sonatas from the 'Getreue Music-Meister' and other chamber music. It is in particular his vocal music which doesn't get the attention it deserves. One of the best-known cantatas is 'Ihr Völker hört’ from the collection 'Harmonischer Gottesdienst', which contains many very fine cantatas.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 13, 2004):
Telemann & tuning

John Pike wrote: < Yes, interesting isn't it. Of course, Bach thought quite well of Telemann and asked him to be godfather to CPE Bach. The two were friends and Wolff speculates that Telemann may have tipped off JSB about the Leipzig job when he turned it down himself. >
Maybe, but the political situation around Bach's installation in Leipzig was quite a bit more complicated than that. See especially Ulrich Siegele's article "Bach and the domestic politics of Electoral Saxony" in The Cambridge Companion to Bach (1997).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0521587808

I posted part of a summary of it about a year ago; it's archived as approximately the top half of the page at http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/HIP-12.htm
That was from part of a discussion where somebody was trying to knock down Anna Magdalena's important musical role in Bach's life as one of his copyists....

I agree with Joost's remarks from yesterday about the Paul Dombrecht recording (Vanguard/Passacaille 99701) of Telemann oboe concertos. Wow! The opening of that C minor concerto (first thing on the disc), starting the piece with a diminished chord othe 7th degree over a tonic pedal...what a guy! Some parts of T's "Voelker-Ouverture" in B-flat get exotic like that, too: a good recording is La Stravaganza's, on Denon.

=====

< I actually quite enjoy some of Telemann's music, especially when played well. I'd be interested to know from Brad some time whether he has tried any Telemann in Bach's temperament. Maybe a reappraisal will be due if the music is transformed by being played in an appropriate temperament. Brad has already hinted that music by CPE Bach and Quantz is transformed when played in Bach's temperament. >
Well, a truism is: any software (in this case, music) puts its best results forward only when the hardware has been set up correctly....

I'm not at liberty to say more here about Bach's temperament, for several reasons:

(1) My paper has been accepted for publication in 2005 (hurrah!), in a musicological journal. To maintain the respectability that it (and the journal!) deserves, in my enthusiasm about it I can't go scooping myself by saying too much about it.

(2) There's at least one member of the BachRecordings and BachCantatas lists who has been gathering up any comments by me (some prompted by his own direct questions here!) and recycling them as work of his own, without attribution, trying to scoop me with a "publication" already on the web. He's been trying to reverse-engineer Bach's temperament from my various remarks about its features, and from any other sources he can cobble together; and, indeed, without taking musicology itself seriously as a science: he cites no sources from the past 20 years. I've already contacted the host of the web site that "published" his paper, with my complaint about the underhandedness of this. Fortunately, in their own forum I was allowed to put up an equally public objection to his paper, outlining factual reasons why his published "findings" are arbitrary and absurd ones.

This incident is deplorable and sickening: both because it's happened at all (from this group of BCML/BRML that is supposedly a friendly discussion among Bach fans), and because his attempt to put it all together has been so dilettantish, superficial, and just plain wrong, showing little real understanding of the material, or even of the problems to be solved by it. Whether he intended it to be or not, his paper is a mockery of valid musicological processes: as if real musicology is nothing beyond the fluff that he could invent (and has invented) himself. Furthermore, at least one of his postings to BRML since then has been from a computer whose clock was turned back almost six months into the past: evidence that he's perhaps been trying to post-date some of his computer files somewhere to make it look as if his "discovery" (such as it is...) was ahead of mine?

Since there are such trolls here to rip off or heckle serious work, I now regret that I have said even as much about this project as I did. This forum isn't a safe place to present anything of much value; evidently I was wrong to expect that it might be.

(3) Another member wrote to me with the opinion that my postings about tuning are off-topic (how?) and a "parody" (of what?). Whatever that member meant by this, it's clear that my remarks about tuning are not welcome here among people who mainly want to chat about recordings that sound good to them (which is, after all, a legitimate point).

As for responsibility to the music: I think it's sad that there's been so much sophistry put up, so much lampooning of musicology here by several members, so much wild guesswork dressed up to look respectable, that real musicological inquiry itself then comes across as merely a "parody" of all that garbage...what a reversal! This tuning project of mine has taken 20 years of background in training, practice, research, and interdisciplinary study, just to be able to find all the scattered puzzle pieces and put them together in a way that makes sense by all the evidence. And, most recently, it's been an especially intense three months of literature review, calculation, experimentation (playing through most of Bach's music), writing, revision, and consultation with other experts, all to get the findings into publishable shape and get them confirmed properly before they're released to the public. As part of this I've had to develop some new analytical methods to be able to demonstrate why Bach's tuning works as well as it does, with dozens of musical examples; this is a step forward in music theory, along with music history...showing a new way to think about tonal music and make sense of the way it's put together. There is nothing trivial about this project, except perhaps in the estimation of some who don't understand the scientific processes of musicological research, or give them any value or credence.

As for musical outcomes: proper tuning affects not only the intonation of all the instruments (directly) but also phrasing, articulation, dramatic flow, and more: having a deep impact on many aspects of Bach performance--and therefore also Bach recordings, eventually. Quite bluntly: all Bach recordings to date have been out of tune, to some extent! How much more on topic could it be?! We haven't yet been able to hear Bach's music the way he expected it to go, with regard to intonation. That layer of expressiveness is built into the music, objectively, by Bach. We performers who care about trying to do things Bach's way will be compelled to rethink our methods and practices; so must instrument builders who attempt to reconstruct replicas or to rebuild existing instruments back to original condition (most notably, organs). It makes that much of a difference in so many different musical areas, and it reverses quite a few previously established notions about Bach's music. That's why I've been careful to take this project through proper steps, to have it all checked out by colleagues and published where it will be taken seriously. That takes time, effort, and dedication from many people who have invested careers in this. That's why the attempted scoop of this (see #2 above) is so insulting, both professionally and personally: it trivializes the whole thing!

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: The Keyboard Temperament of J. S. Bac [by Charles Francis] - Feedback [Articles]

 

Another comparison

Anna Vriend wrote (July 8, 2004):
Should anyone be interested, there is a comparison of JS Bach and GF Händel, attributed possibly to CPE Bach, in the Bach Reader (David & Mendel revised ed. 1966) on pp. 280-288. I just came it across by coincidence.

Apart from the proper comparison, it also gives a reflection and some considerations upon making comparisons of "famous men".

John Pike wrote (July 8, 2004):
[To Anna Vriend] Yes. He (CPE, probably) wrote it in response to a comparison less flattering
to his father written by someone else.

 

Giazotto's folly
Folies
Folia

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 9, 2004):
<< That "Adagio" is really the work of Giazotto at least as much as Albinoni...at least the slow and treacly arrangement of it that gets all the airplay. IIRC, my first exposure to that one was on the old Malgoire LP. Albinoni/Giazotto is sort of like Boccherini/Grutzmacher and Purcell/Britten: the arrangement becomes more popular than the original, at least for a while. >>
< It's more Giazotto than
Albinoni, because that sirupy tune that "everybody" loves is by Giazotto -- it's the bass part that was left by Albinoni. The tune ist'n even very much in the Baroque style. >
Yup. Sort of like the way Rachmaninoff's variations "on a theme by Corelli" doesn't really have any Corelli in it, other than the coincidence that C and Marais and lots of other people wrote "La Follia" divisions. R could have called it "Variations on a theme of [Emanuel] Bach" just as well.

Speaking of that, anybody here have a favorite recording of that CPE "La Follia"? I've heard zesty live performances bby Zvi Meniker and Joseph Gascho, but I don't think either has recorded it yet.

Robert Sherman wrote (July 9, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I don't have a favorite of the CPE version. But Heinz Holliger's performance of the Marin-Marais version is desert-island quality by anybody's standard.

Joost wrote (July 9, 2004):
Folies

Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Speaking of that, anybody here have a favorite recording of that CPE "La Follia"? I've heard zesty live performances both by Zvi Meniker and Joseph Gascho, but I don't think either has recorded it yet. >
Andreas Staier recorded the CPE Folia on harpsichord in 1987 for DHM. This is the only version I have, so it would be difficult to make it my favourite (by lack of camparison), but I like it a lot.

Robert Sherman wrote: < Brad, I don't have a favorite of the CPE version. But Heinz Holliger's performance of the Marin-Marais version is desert-island quality by anybody's standard. >
There are lots of recordings of the Marais Folies, for all kinds of instrumentations (even for solo flute). I agree that the Holliger version is great in it's own way, der Heinz being an outstanding musician, but up to now I have never heard a convincingly arranged version of the Marais work. It has been written that much idiomatically for the viola da gamba, of which MM was an outstanding player himself, that every attempt transcribing it for other instruments robs it from it's 'special effects' such as chords, double stops and 'tenues'.

Many gambists have recorded the Folies. My current favourite is Sophie Watillon on Alpha.

Two other interesting recordings have been issued lately. One on ATMA by Les Voix Humaines (Margaret Little and Susie Napper), who play it as a viol duet, tossing the subject and the continuo back and forth, having lots of fun along the way. On DHM Hille Perl recorded an early manuscript version, which differs from the published version in a couple of couplets - some of them just slightly (different phrasing or fingering, different embellishments), whereas some couplets are 'new', i.e. they have been replaced in the published version. Hille is accompanied by Lee Santana on theorbe, with lots of panache.

Joost wrote (July 9, 2004):
Folia

By the way, few people know that SJB used the Folia theme as well. It's in the bass in the aria "Unser trefflicher lieber Kammerherr" from the Peasants Cantata (BWV 212).

John Pike wrote (July 9, 2004):
[To Joost] Interesting slip here. SJB = Saint Johann Bach?

Anna Vriend wrote (July 9, 2004):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< Speaking of that, anybody here have a favorite recording of that CPE "La Follia"? >
I have CPE's variations played on harpsichord by Robert Woolley, on a CD featuring also Corelli, Marin Marais, A. Scarlatti, Vivaldi and Geminiani, thus featuring also the Purcell quartet and the Purcell Band.

Being the only recording I own of CPE's variations of the theme, I don't know how it projects; however it does stand out on this CD comparing with the other settings.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 9, 2004):
< Brad, I don't have a favorite of the CPE version. But Heinz Holliger's performance of the Marin-Marais version is desert-island quality by anybody's standard. >
I remember hearing that about 25 years ago on LP; has it ever made it to CD?

< Many gambists have recorded the Folies. My current favourite is Sophie Watillon on Alpha.
Two other interesting recordings have been issued lately. One on ATMA by Les Voix Humaines (Margaret Little and Susie Napper), who play it as a viol duet, tossing the subject and the continuo back and forth, having lots of fun along the way. On DHM Hille Perl recorded an early manuscript version, which differs from the published version in a couple of couplets - some of them just slightly (different phrasing or fingering, different embellishments), whereas some couplets are 'new', i.e. they have been replaced in the published version. Hille is accompanied by Lee Santana on theorbe, with lots of panache. >
Thanks for the recommendations! Any remarks about the Dreyfus/Haugsand and Savall/Gallet/Smith recordings? Those are the two I have...I think I'll go listen to them right now. That, and the excerpts arranged down for the "Tous les matins" soundtrack; looks like it's time to pick up the reissue of that to get the bonus second disc, with Savall's remake of more (with Behringer and Lislevand).

Robert Sherman wrote (July 9, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Not as far as I can find. That's tragic. The fidelity on the LP was exceptionally good, so if a transfer were done now the result could be quite listenable. Any recording companies listening?

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (July 12, 2004):
[To Joost & John Pike] For anyone who is interested in La Folia, here is a comprehensive website dedicated to this music piece: http://www.folias.nl/

 

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